Unpacking APHA: Breastfeeding Research All-Stars

APHA 2015

Look at all the public health-ing going on

I attended the 2015 APHA annual meeting in Chicago at the beginning of November, and it's taken this long for me to get off my bum and write a blog post about it. It's finals week next week, so why not procrastinate?

My first experience in Chicago involved riding the train on Halloween listening to a man rant about unfair pending litigation against him. He offered detailed personal information while pacing and gesticulating wildly up and down the train car. I disembarked quickly and was greeted with a cold, rainy early evening. I stayed with a friend who I hadn't seen in about 4 years, who very graciously opened up her apartment to me and showed me as fantastic a time as you can show someone who is spending 8+ hours a day conferencing. 

I could write a series of blog posts about everything I learned there, but I decided to just stay with the highlights. Basically a series of fan girl selfies and pics of people that I really admire and also got to meet in person.

Liz Brooks and Melissa Bartick

Selfie with Liz Brooks AND Melissa Bartick!
I finall got to meet Liz Brooks, IBCLC, Author, Lawyer, Speaker, awesome human being - live and in person. She really made the conference a much more enjoyable experience than it would otherwise have been, and I kept running into her at various talks because of our similar inclinations and interests. Interacting with and learning from more experienced, multidisciplinary professionals who are also passionate about advocacy and breastfeeding is an invaluable experience and I don't think I'll ever stop seeking out more on that front.

 Dr. Melissa Bartick is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School and an Internist at Cambridge Health Alliance. She also co-authored a series of amazing manuscripts describing a cost analysis for all pediatric health conditions with reported risk ratios that favored breastfeeding. The most recent one is still being written, but I got to see a presentation of the preliminary results related to refining the model to make it more conservative and the results were very exciting:

Boom. Mic Drop.

Breastfeeding Section poster presentations in full effect.
I was amazed at the amount, breadth and depth of breastfeeding research represented at APHA's annual meeting. The Breastfeeding Section was robust, and is still growing.

I met Diana Cassar-Uhl, author and blogger at Normal, like Breathing. Sadly, I did not get a selfie with her - but her presentation on Social Media and Internet Use among Mothers with Perceived Low Milk Supply was particularly intriguing because I operate in the social media/mother to mother breastfeeding support sphere. Her conclusions followed my own observations - that healthcare providers (of every sphere, really) should be aware of the reality that their patients are coming to them with information that they have mined from the internet...and this may sound impossible, but also illustrates an opportunity for any enterprising social entrepreneur out there - healthcare providers need to have a working knowledge of the type of information floating around out there that could potentially be influencing the health behavior choices of their patients.

Dr. Erica Antsey from the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity bravely reviewed the most recent mPINC survey results while suffering from laryngitis. Her presentation focused on progress as related to the 2011 Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. While all states are making progress on the twenty steps outlined in the Call to Action, the least number of activities were recorded for training a wide range of health professionals in breastfeeding (Steps 9 & 10), strengthening capacity and increasing funding for high-quality breastfeeding research (Steps 17 & 18), and promoting paid maternity leave policies (Step 13). I've waxed hysterical about our shameful paid parental leave policies here in the US previously, so you can read more if you want some finger wagging here and here. And here for the double doozy of parental leave policy and the dearth of breastfeeding research funding opportunities.

Whatever your discipline, conferences (if they are well-organized and offer quality continuing education opportunities and speakers of note) can really energize you and motivate you to go forth and continue slogging through the day to day grind of research and academia. Breastfeeding conferences are unique in that there is such a wide scope of attendees, from academics to healthcare practitioners to legal and policy advocates to lay supporters to NGOs. Disciplines as varied as medicine, anthropology, health education and behavior, nutrition, public health, health communication and even political science and social entrepreneurs are in attendance, and there is usually a panoply of international attendees.

I think that it's important to acknowledge that some mothers cannot or choose not to breastfeed, and the reasons for those situations are as varied and individual as the mother-infant dyads themselves. But I also think it's possible to acknowledge the critical preventative public health imperative of breastfeeding support while not being critical of a mother's individual choice. We all do the best we can with the tools that we have. But it is possible to use the intrinsic innovative push that exists in all humans to more effectively promote and support a health behavior that is as complex and multifaceted, and yes, as sensitive, as breastfeeding.

Check out part deux of my unpacking APHA!


  1. YO! Thanks Cynthia, and the feelings are sooper dooper mutual! It was my first APHA Conference. What a well-oiled monster of wonderfulness. Anything Melissa Bartick or Diana Cassar-Uhl write or say is worth listening to. -- Liz Brooks


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