February 2021

by Elizabeth Kirts, MPH, ICCE, IBCLC, RLC

I always welcome the month of February because the increased light helps me to feel rejuvenated and ready for upcoming spring in my area of the Mountain West in the United States.  In addition to a little more daylight, February holds some recognitions. Less important for me would be Groundhog Day, National Ukulele Day, and National Tater Tot Day, to name a few. The more important celebrations include Black History Month, International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month, Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and American Heart Month.

Black History Month

Black History Month began in 1915 which was a half a century after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery. It wasn’t officially recognized in America for another 61 years; not until 1976. As allied health professionals it is imperative that we have some understanding of how being black impacts health outcomes for moms, babies, and families. Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from preventable pregnancy-related complications than non-Hispanic white women. Black infants are twice as likely to die as non-Hispanic white infants. We also know that black babies are less likely to breastfeed for the length of time recommended by governing health organizations. We know that implicit bias, systemic racism, and the fact that during the times of slavery, Black women were forced to breastfeed white babies at the detriment to their own baby have generational implications and are what drives the above statistics.

ICEA will continue to do what we can to change these statistics and will be taking the next steps to form our Inclusivity and Diversity Committee. If you missed the opportunity to participate in the focus group last August and would like to be a part of this committee, please contact Executive Director Katesha Phillips at executivedirector@icea.org.

As we celebrate Black History Month, take a moment to pause and remember that Black History did not start with slavery but rather is a rich and beautiful culture where families and breastfeeding are to be respected and celebrated. Let’s remember that so many people are making it their mission to repair the damage and disconnect from the beautiful ancient history to the tragedy of slavery and the continued racial disparities and inequities. We can’t change the past, but we can change “the now” so that in the future when today is history, it is better. I ask that we each take a look at our lives, careers, and communities to make even small changes that may have big impacts. Become aware of your own bias and do some work to understand and do better.

International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month

International Prenatal Infection Prevention Month serves to promote awareness of infections transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy.  By educating and reminding expectant parents of the possible dangers of transfer, we are a part of healthier outcomes.  Here is a helpful list from the United States, Centers for Disease Control, Infection Prevention or information from the World Health Organization, in a comprehensive guide on infection prevention.

Awareness of Children’s Mental Health

Although already passed, in the United States, February 1-7, Awareness of Children’s Mental Health set the theme of “Flip the Script on Mental Health.” This past year has taken a toll on all of us in terms of mental health. Shut downs, job loss, quarantine, and loss of community connections have been very difficult. In my own life, the tragedy and lack of understanding of mental health were all too clear when I lost my son in October. I worry about our families who have experienced pregnancy, birth, and postpartum in this time when resources are limited and virtual. It is my hope that as we all struggle with the challenges of this ongoing pandemic that we support one another and come up with creative ways to help the families we serve. The mental health of the family during the first 1000 days can impact the lifetime health of the child.

American Heart Month

I will end with the February focus on heart health. American Heart Month began in 1964 with Lyndon B. Johnson. This was set up as an awareness of heart disease being a major cause of death and the focus on how to protect our hearts. Until recently, heart disease was not really studied in women. Now we know that although the symptoms are different in women, it is a major cause of death. Because of this organizations such as Go Red for Women have been created to educate and support heart health for the female population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. Understanding and education on these defects can help us support those families who are struggling with this diagnosis.

As I conclude, I want to focus on another meaning of heart. Not the organ that is vital for living, but the secondary definition, “the center or innermost part of something.” For ICEA, all of you are the heart of our organization. Your background, diversity, passion, compassion, and desire to teach and support are vital to us and the families we serve. Go forth in February with heart and compassion, helping to spread our mission, “To educate, certify, and support the birth professional who believes in freedom to make decisions based on knowledge of alternatives in family centered maternity and newborn care.”

Please contact me with any needs or questions, as I am here to serve and support you president@icea.org.