Navajo WIC Program employees set example for breastfeeding at work

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Dara Livingston and her daughter, Lucy Livingston, visit with coworkers during a gathering Friday in Farmington for the Navajo Women, Infants and Children Program. Dara is a nutritionist for Navajo WIC's Gallup Program and has been nursing Lucy at work.

FARMINGTON — Wearing a pink ribbon on her head, Lucy Livingston glanced around the conference room while being carried by her mother, Dara Livingston.

The five-month-old is one of three infants who have been accompanying their mothers to work at the Navajo Women, Infants and Children Program.

Livingston, along with Marnelda Begay and Ora Nez, decided to breastfeed their babies at work. The women said they made the decision because breast milk provides nutrition and reduces the risk of several diseases.

They also opted to nurse at work in hopes their example helps clients understand a tribal law that requires employers working in or conducting contract work for the Navajo Nation to provide ways for mothers to continue to breastfeed.

The Navajo Nation Healthy Start Act is a 2008 law that allows mothers to provide nursing milk for their child at the workplace.

Ora Nez smiles at her daughter, Josephine Nez, during a gathering Friday in Farmington to recognize babies who accompanied their mothers to work at the Navajo Women, Infants and Children Program. Nez is a breastfeeding peer counselor for Navajo WIC's Fort Defiance Program.

Under the law, an employer must provide a clean and private area for mothers to use to engage in nursing or using a breast pump. The law also mandates the mother receive unpaid time during work hours to conduct these actions.

The Navajo WIC Program supports its employees to nurse babies on site until they reach six months. The support is part of the program's work to promote the benefits of breastfeeding.

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On Friday, the three babies cooed and cuddled with their moms as they were recognized at a monthly staff meeting in Farmington. The meeting also gave employees time to send well-wishes to the infants.

Six-month-old Makayla Jones joined her mother, Marnelda Begay, at work until Feb. 1. During that time Marnelda nursed her daughter while working at the Gallup office for the Navajo Women, Infants and Children Program.

Begay, a breastfeeding peer counselor, nursed her daughter, Makayla Jones, until she reached six months in early February.

Jones stayed in a bassinet, then in a seating device next to Begay's desk at the program's office in Gallup.

"Being a peer counselor and wanting to breastfeed exclusively, that was a great opportunity," Begay said.

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Livingston, who is a nutritionist, said bringing her daughter to work in Gallup was helpful because she worried about finding a babysitter after returning from maternity leave.

"I think being able to bring her to work showed my clients that we can work, and we can breastfeed," Livingston said.

Navajo Women, Infants and Children Program employees Marnelda Begay, Dara Livingston and Ora Nez, from left, have nursed their babies at work. Their jobs include sharing information about the tribe's Healthy Start Act which supports mothers to provide nursing milk for their children at workplaces.

Nez has been a breastfeeding peer counselor with the program for 10 years. Her five-month-old daughter, Josephine Nez, is her third baby she nursed at work in Fort Defiance, Arizona.

She said the program is the only tribal department she knows that supports and encourages mothers to bring their babies to work.

"We don't have to worry about childcare. I don't have to stop breastfeeding because that was a big worry for me, to find an employer who was supportive of me breastfeeding," Nez said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

Marnelda Begay holds her daughter, Makayla Jones, at a gathering Friday in Farmington for the Navajo Women, Infants and Children Program. Begay is a breastfeeding peer counselor for the program, which supported Begay in nursing Jones while at work.

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