My name is Monica Esparaza, and I have served the WIC community for more than ten years. I first became involved with WIC when I became pregnant with my first child. I had just moved to a new city and didn't have any family support other than my husband. After giving birth, the WIC breastfeeding support group was a place for me to escape the loneliness of being a new mom in a new town. Shortly after, I started as a peer counselor and then became involved with my local breastfeeding coalition.
I was fluent in Spanish and English in a community setting that served a high percentage of Spanish-speaking families. I remember the first time I walked into a hospital room to provide support to a Spanish-speaking mom. I said to her, "Hola, me llamo Monica, soy consejera de lactancia y hablo Español." As soon as I finished, I saw the biggest smile spread across that mom's face in a setting where most people did not attempt to speak to her in her first language. With my work at the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force and the collaboration with our state WIC program, we continue to identify better ways to support the Hispanic community. One of our most recent reason initiatives has been a virtual Spanish breastfeeding support group, funded by the Health Connect One, First Food Equity Community Projects. We know that the pandemic has impacted how families receive support, particularly for our Spanish-speaking and other non-English-speaking communities. Supporting families in my first language has been so rewarding and beautiful, and now, I get to continue that support on a broader scale.
Access to support, counseling, and healthcare in one's first language continues to be a barrier in many communities. Although interpreters are a starting point, there is a trust and comfort level that can only be achieved through communicating directly in one's first language. Having more bilingual staff and peer counselors allows us to build relationships with parents and the abuelas, abuelos, tias, and comadres that are vital in our Hispanic culture and community and play a significant role in our support and success.
Diversifying the healthcare system by creating a nutrition and lactation pipeline is essential to health equity because it provides opportunities for our community to grow beyond peer counseling. The peer counselor model works because the peers reflect the community. They speak the languages of the community they serve and understand those communities' cultural differences and backgrounds. We need to begin to expand from that model to support the growth of nutritionists, staff, and lactation consultants from the same communities that share our language, culture, and traditional foods.
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Monica Esparaza is the Executive Director of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force. She is a trained CLC and Community Interpreter who previously served families as a breastfeeding peer counselor for more than ten years, providing peer-to-peer support to lactating families through the WIC program both individually and in the hospital setting.