For more information and a backstory on my service learning project, please check out my other entries here and here. Please also check out this power point my supervisor, Krista, made and presented this year at the Breastfeeding and Feminism International Conference. It has a lot of information about breastfeeding in the context of decolonization and food sovereignty.
This week, I have finished up my work with Newborn Enhanced Support Team. My main job was to help create a “baby’s first foods” storyline for their semi-automated text messaging system that focuses on exclusive breastfeeding and promoting locally sources foods for baby’s first solids at six months old. A storyline is a series of text messages a family will get over time in the postpartum period. I created a series of seven text messages that are spread out over the course of two months from four months postpartum to six months postpartum. In order to turn this storyline into a series of texts, I painstakingly had to code each one so that when it goes through the automated system, it will customize the texts to include things like mom’s name, and baby’s name/age/gender.
The main goal of this project was to help secure the continued funding of their First Foods grant that supports food sovereignty throughout the state. To make the text messages really compelling, I had to do more than just say “breastfeed and support local”. I used research on the benefits of waiting until six months to start foods, why food security is such a big deal here in Hawaii, and the health disparities that are seen when indigenous populations do not participate in exclusive breastfeeding.
I am proud to say that my text messages will now reach over 250 women in West Hawaii during their first year postpartum. This may seem like a low number, but on average, there are only about 25-30 women who give birth at Kona Hospital every month. If there are about 300-360 women who give birth a year and some of them choose to opt out of the text messaging system, I am still reaching a fair amount of the birthing population here.
A secondary part of my service learning project was to help create a board book that would be given out to families. The board book would include simple illustrations of local first foods that baby can eating in their first year. Sadly, this didn’t pan out as far as we would have liked. I underestimated the legwork that it took to do the research on the texts, create them, and incorporate them into the system. We still have a draft for the book and this summer I will continue to volunteer at NEST and find someone to do the illustrations and move forward in the book making process.
When I think about the type of social work I like to do, I always say that I am “over” direct service. Been there, done that, and I’m slowly finding that it’s not for me. But when I look at my service learning project, I think back to how much I miss being a breastfeeding peer counselor to moms up at the hospital. A lot of days were uneventful but there are many times I feel like I helped a mom in her decision to exclusively nurse or helped her through a rough patch. To me, breastfeeding has never been about being “anti-formula” or “breast is best”; you can see that in this work in the decolonizing food movement, breastfeeding plays a much bigger role in food sovereignty and security here in Hawaii. Sure, it’s not the end of the world if that’s not what is right for a certain family but just like eating locally, we should try our best when and where we can. If I were to continue on in this service learning project, I would want to get back to more hands-on approaches. We used to hold community baby food making classes and help families plant starters when their kids were born so that they could enjoy the fruits of their labor (pun intended) when baby was ready to start eating. Perhaps I would make a youtube channel with a small series of videos about how to incorporate more local foods into a family’s diet.
Today I ran a First Foods booth at Early Head Start’s Health & Safety fair. I discussed the benefits of extended breastfeeding and making fresh baby food. I helped families make a mix of purees included apple and banana, green beans and pumpkin, and sweet potato and coconut milk. We also handed out fresh fruits to the older kids and pre- and post-natal vitamins to the mamas!