The breastfeeding team at Health Department of Northwest Michigan (HDNW) has achieved Premier Award status with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) WIC Breastfeeding Award of Excellence. After several years of being awarded Gold, HDNW became one of only two programs to receive Premier designation in the Midwest—and the only agency in Michigan. The Midwest region includes seven states.
“Achieving this level of recognition is rare,” says Dan Thorell, HDNW Health Officer. “While we’ve always known our breastfeeding peer counselors do excellent work, it’s nice to see them receive national attention for their commitment to northwest Michigan’s mothers and babies. Well done!”
Danica Howard and Kylie Hart are HDNW’s peer counselors. They divide and conquer as they serve nearly 200 residents through seven clinics in Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. As trained peer counselors and lactation consultants, they offer one-to-one breastfeeding support in clinics and homes, over the telephone, and during free prenatal classes that are offered in-person and virtually.
“Danica and Kylie are extremely passionate about supporting breastfeeding families and are continuously looking for ways to keep improving,” says Kristina Fox of USDA Food and Nutrition Services Midwest Regional Office during an online presentation. “The breastfeeding program continues to grow, and during COVID the support never wavered.”
This year, the USDA awarded 17 Gold Awards and 2 Premier Awards in the Midwest. The award program was established to recognize local WIC agencies that have provided exemplary breastfeeding promotion and support. The intent is to provide models to encourage other local agencies to strengthen their support activities and, ultimately, increase breastfeeding rates among WIC participants.
Stepping Up Again
Along with the recognition, Premier status came with a $1,000 prize. To best benefit area residents, Howard, Hart, and their peers set up and supplied Parents Pit Stops at local fairs in Emmet and Otsego counties. It was the first outreach of its kind for HDNW. “We had so many parents stop by our pit stops and express appreciation for the quiet space to breastfeed and take a break with their children,” says Melissa Hahn, HDNW Director of Family Health. “We hope to be able to provide this service in the future as well.”
An important part of the local program is education. Free classes are offered in person and virtually. Do you know someone who can benefit from this type of support? If so, they can call HDNW locally at 800- 432-4121 to sign up for any of these free breastfeeding classes:
• 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17 in Antrim County
• 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 in Charlevoix County
• 2 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15 in Emmet County
• 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21 in Otsego County
• 2 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13 in Charlevoix County
• 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19 in Antrim County Virtual classes are available at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14 and Dec. 12.