UAB, March of Dimes provide meals to support breastfeeding moms

UAB Women and Infants Center (WIC) has expanded its meal provision for mothers who are breastfeeding their infants during a stay in UAB’s Regional Newborn Intensive Care Unit (RNICU) and Continuing Care Nursery (CCN). Meals for mothers and their families have been provided on a limited basis in the past through a partnership with the March of Dimes Family Support Program. The expansion of this program by UAB Food and Nutrition Services now ensures that meals are available for mothers six days a week.

The RNICU and CCN care for babies who are ill or born early. Rooms in these neonatal units provide an ideal environment for the important bonding that occurs between moms and their babies during the first few days and weeks of life. However, an extended stay for sick infants can create a burden of increased food expenses for low-income and food-insecure mothers who need proper nutrition to effectively breastfeed their babies. In these circumstances, it’s important to make sure meals are available to moms who need them.

WIC neonatal nurse Sandra Milstead, R.N., said the program meets a critical need that the RNICU and CCN have recognized for years.

 “Increasing the number of days we serve these at-risk families makes a big difference,’ Milstead said. That’s because some families stay for weeks, and that can be quite expensive if you’re eating out two or three times a day.”

Meeting a basic need

The partnership between UAB Food and Nutrition Services and the March of Dimes (MOD) ensures six meals each week for all breastfeeding moms whose babies have extended stays in the neonatal units. The MOD support program offers meals to any member of the family certain days of the week. UAB Food and Nutrition enhances the program by providing some additional meals each week just for mothers.

The food support program makes these meals available for all mothers at WIC. But for families facing financial struggles, programs like these are especially important. According to a study by the Food Research and Action Center, many Alabama families struggle to get food consistently. For 2019-2021, the study found that over 13% of Alabama households were food-insecure, meaning that the residents didn’t always know where they would find their next meal.

Research also suggests that moms staying with their babies while hospitalized is the healthiest choice. But this can create a big expense for families if their newborn requires a long hospital stay after birth.

“Some families have to stay in the hospital for weeks because of health issues with their newborn baby,” Milstead said. “Many of them come from throughout the state to be here. We encourage families to stay, but that creates a dilemma for those with financial struggles. These moms need healthy meals every day. Research shows that lactating mothers produce better milk for their babies and deliver it more effectively when they are receiving proper nutrition themselves. That’s why it’s so important that we provide these meals.”

The program is serving 25-45 families per day currently, and Milstead said she hopes the program can continue indefinitely.

“The main goal of the RNICU and CCN is getting mother and newborn in the best possible health so they can go home,” Milstead said. “This nutritional support is clearly one of the most basic and vital ways we can care for families in need. Everyone here – the clinical staff, the moms, and their families – are so thankful for this effort.”

Click here for information on the importance of breastfeeding, and click here to learn more about the ways UAB Medicine supports breastfeeding moms.

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