Navajo WIC Program employees set example for breastfeeding 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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