We met with Barbara King, IBCLC and Jill Wilson MPH, RD, IBCLC to find out more about their session at the 2023 NWA Annual Education and Training Conference and Exhibits entitled “Creating a Diverse Next Generation in Lactation: Opportunities for WIC Peer Counselors.” Barbara currently serves as the WIC Peer Breastfeeding Support Program Coordinator and Jill as WIC Program Manager for Hennepin County, Minnesota WIC.
Q: Tell us about yourself, your background, and your experiences with WIC?
Barbara: I joined the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Support program in 2010 and worked part-time until 2015. I then increased my hours and have been working in the same capacity, overseeing the Breastfeeding Peer Support program. I come to the world of lactation through a community lens. I was a La Leche League Leader for about 28 years; In 2009, I studied for and sat the IBCLC exam. After that, I applied for this position.
Jill: I have been the Program Manager for two years and have worked with WIC for over 20 years. Before being Program Manager, I was the Breastfeeding Coordinator for Hennepin County, Minnesota WIC. I began the Peer Program in Hennepin County in 2005. I have a lot of passion for breastfeeding in our program.
Q: What are some everyday challenges that you face in your position?
Barbara: Having the time to pay attention to everyday details that need to be done, do extra things that seem to really help our community and employees in WIC, run the peer program, and promote lactation in the community all at the same time.
Jill: Time is the biggest challenge. Staffing has also been a challenge during this time of the COVID-19 public health emergency while we've been trying to figure out how to readjust in this new hybrid world. The uncertainty of waivers and similar issues goe along with that. A lot of change is exciting but challenging at the same time.
Q: Can you give us a little run down on the session?
Barbara: The session is about the NWA AHEAD grant that Hennepin County Public Health WIC received in 2021. Hennepin County Public Health WIC was one of the seven programs nationwide to receive a $55,000 grant. The pilot project provided educational and career advancement opportunities to a diverse cohort of seven of our breastfeeding peer counselors. These frontline workers are rich in lived experience. They’re bicultural and often bilingual, but they don't have access to current county educational opportunities because they work part-time.
The outcome is additional career options for the peer counselors, increased self-confidence, personal agency, and a likelihood of a more diverse staff within WIC and in other health care settings as well.
Q: What are you most excited to speak on for the session?
Barbara: The grant because it allowed us to dive deep into something that is very much needed in the WIC community and is also needed across lactation care overall; that's increasing a diverse staff of lactation providers. We see in Minnesota that we have huge health disparities, and this is one way to address those. It moved this small cohort on very well and they proved to be very successful at what they did. It's exciting now to see NWA continue this in their future work as well.
Q: What do you see as WIC’s most pressing issue as it relates to your expertise in WIC?
Barbara: Limited resources within WIC. It's difficult to balance the helping the families that want to breastfeed and provide human milk for their babies and those that need formula.
Jill: Coming from a manager's perspective, I can't ignore the client service delivery model and the way it works with waivers. In terms of staffing, the most pressing issues is balancing resources and increasing diversity in nutrition professionals coming into our field.
A lot of funding is going into formula management, not by choice, but by our current environment with formula shortages that we've had to deal with and substitutions. So much effort has gone into training staff so they know what to tell clients and how to work with clients to get formula.
Q: What is one accomplishment that you're particularly proud of?
Barbara: WIC has provided a wonderful opportunity in this grant to have the support of management within WIC and our county entity. In the big scheme of things, this was a small grant, but it is something that County Management put forward when it didn’t have to.
I also want to highlight the seven breastfeeding peer counselors! I would say that all of them accomplished more than they ever thought they would within this short time span. Not only did they improve themselves and their education, but they came together as a group to talk about the barriers that BIPOC individuals face in employment, especially in the lactation community, and advancing their careers.
Our peers really picked it up and took it upon themselves to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity and take this class as a way to advance themselves. I'm proud of the planning that went around this to hire someone from the outside to help us, the promotion, and the follow-up afterward. It was impressive. I'm very proud of the staff!
Q: Is there anything else that you’d like our audience to know before going into your session?
these are just some ideas and can maybe provide a new way of thinking about things. Also, I want to emphasize how important it is to have the voice and the ownership of those that are benefiting because it is not for us to create that future in lactation. It is their future.
Listen to Jill and Barbara’s session at the 2023 NWA Annual Education and Training Conference and Exhibits May 1-4, 2023 virtual OR in person in San Diego, CA. Register today!