Jackson State University recently received a generous $50,000 donation from the Charles Schwab Foundation toward creating the Center of Excellence on Breastfeeding and Early Nutrition for Black women in Mississippi. The center will be housed in the Department of Behavioral and Environmental Health within the College of Health Sciences (CHS), a CEPH Accredited School of Public Health.
“Our goal in creating this center is to focus on several areas that will support statewide maternal and child health initiatives aimed at improving infant health. One is education and training. The other is advocacy for breastfeeding, and the third is research that will make meaningful contributions to improve breastfeeding and early nutrition outcomes for infants in Mississippi and beyond. We hope to serve as a repository for research and best practices around breastfeeding and early nutrition in Mississippi,” said Mary Shaw, Ph.D., department chair.
The vision for the center materialized after three years of research and grant writing on the importance of early nutrition serving as a major factor in healthy infants. Former Dean Girmay Berhie, Ph.D. is enthusiastic about the CHS engagement in early nutrition research, education, training and service.
“Dr. Shaw is a trailblazer, a prominent leader, and a chair in the COHS who believes in and expects excellence in what she does,” said Berhie. “The generous gift from the Charles Schwab Foundation will add to the creation of the Center of Excellence on Breastfeeding and Early Nutrition program. Such is her commitment to JSU.”
Shaw explained that the Center’s inception is due to a three-year grant funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and was the early vision of Mohammad Shahbazi, Ph.D. former interim dean of the School of Public Health.
As part of the center’s main objective, earlier this year, the CHS launched its ‘MomNBabyEXCEL’ brand with a virtual conference on breastfeeding and early nutrition in Mississippi. The conference sought to increase awareness and knowledge about breastfeeding, early nutrition challenges that mothers and fathers encounter, and opportunities to support/advocate for mothers and their families.
In a recent study conducted by the Mississippi Communities and Hospitals Advancing Maternity Practices program, researchers found that in the U.S., both race and geography are two of the biggest predictors of breastfeeding outcomes.
Shaw shared that with African American women touting the lowest rate of breastfeeding nationally, innovative research focused on Mississippians will guide transdisciplinary efforts to address clinical, psychosocial, education, economic, environmental, and policy factors that impact breastfeeding and early nutrition outcomes for mothers and their infants.
A notable portion of the MomNBabyEXCEL brand will encompass increasing awareness and knowledge about breastfeeding and early nutrition among fathers and/or male partners in relationships with women who are breastfeeding or attending to the early nutrition needs of their infants.
Shaw explained that pregnancy and postpartum care experiences for women must include family support. Support encompasses being knowledgeable and equipped to support the needs of women during a very challenging time period inclusive of prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care.
“We’re excited about the male initiative. There are few programs out there that educate men so that they have the knowledge and skills to support breastfeeding and early nutrition for infants and even become an advocate for it,” said Shaw.
The CHS has formed several key relationships in creating the center, including participating in the HBCU Consortium of African American Public Health Programs and the HBCUs advancing Maternal and Child Health Initiatives to achieve health equity.
The Center also intends to provide unique opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to actively participate in MCH-focused projects.