Improving Health by Advancing Breastfeeding in Colorado Communities

The work of advancing health in our communities is never-ending. And that can mean those of us who do this work rarely have a chance to celebrate our successes before we move on to the next challenge.

But the conclusion of grant funding for the Advancing Breastfeeding in Colorado (ABC) project gives us an opportunity to reflect and celebrate with our partners. For the past five years, the Colorado Health Institute has managed ABC, a regional collaboration with local public health agencies that worked to improve health across the state by reducing barriers to breastfeeding and fostering breastfeeding- or lactation-friendly environments. A special focus in this work was reducing health disparities through increasing lactation support for families earning low incomes and in communities of color. As this project shifts into its next phase, we couldn’t move on without sharing some reflections and triumphs.

Colorado’s Cancer, Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Disease (CCPD) Grant Program provided funding for the ABC project. Although the funding ended in June 2023, two statewide organizations have picked up the mantle and will move this important work forward:

CHI’s primary partners for this project were Boulder County Public Health; Public Health Institute at Denver Health; Jefferson County Public Health; and Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties (formerly Tri-County Health Department). Together we:

  • Increased the number of new environments (like worksites, child care facilities, and medical offices) with lactation policies and practices and helped others expand their capacity.
  • Built capacity in the community by supporting local coalitions and workgroups.
  • Provided access to high-quality, culturally appropriate lactation education and resources.

Through this partnership, the ABC team made a lasting impact. The ABC team’s outreach efforts led to over 400 partners being recognized as lactation friendly, one of the project’s signature achievements. Many of these partnerships cross county lines and local public health jurisdictions, such as health care systems, child care facilities, even financial institutions. ABC’s support, training, and resources led to hundreds of new policies, trained staff, and dedicated lactation spaces throughout the Denver metro region.

The Lactation Room at the Colorado Health Institute
The lactation room at the Colorado Health Institute. CHI was recognized as breastfeeding-friendly in 2021.

ABC also made strides in connecting and supporting people in rural communities. In-person and virtual “Regional Lactation Days” provided education and networking opportunities for more than 40 rural groups. These spaces were valuable, offering both motivation and encouragement around shared struggles. With the statewide Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition, ABC developed a mini grant program to fund 92 community lactation projects, prioritizing funds to those projects working with rural communities, low-income communities, communities of color, and LGBTQIA+ communities in Colorado. The mini grant program will continue on through the coalition.

As the coordinator for the ABC partnership, I am particularly proud of how the team took community-informed learnings from earlier in the grant period and put them into practice.

One example: the ABC team coordinated professional lactation training for over 250 individuals over five years. Trainees and community leaders, like the Cuenta Conmigo Cooperative in Jefferson County, noted that many existing lactation courses are not culturally relevant or accessible for language and learning.

As a result, ABC teamed up with Colorado’s locally led Community Lactation Access Project (CLAP) to develop the lactation course into Spanish. ABC then worked with the CLAP training team to submit their courses to the national Academy for Lactation Policy and Practice for approval as a national training partner and is waiting to hear the results. If approved, future CLAP graduates will be able to use their CLAP coursework, provided in their own language and culture, to sit for the national lactation certification exam without additional barriers.

Individual public health agencies championed lactation projects in their own communities, resulting in additional successes. A more complete outline of the team’s impact is available in the ABC team’s final report. 

Resources developed by ABC continue to be offered through its partners, in particular the Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition:

A note on language: The terms breastfeeding, chestfeeding, and lactation are used to describe the action of feeding a baby human milk, including expressed/pumped milk or directly chest/breastfeeding. The words chestfeeding and lactation are offered as terms for people that prefer not to use the word breast when referring to their own bodies.