Early Beginnings Learning Center has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture to develop and implement practices that promote infant breastfeeding and improve the health of local children.

“The grant we received was for breastfeeding supportive practices,” Shirley Stovall, owner of the child care facility at 809 Early Blvd., said. “As part of the grant, we will be implementing many things, such as lactation rooms for mothers and free community education — including four meetings free to the public to learn more about breastfeeding and how it benefits everyone. All services are free to the public.”

Stovall said she has titled the program, “Developing Super Heroes — One Ounce at a Time.”

The USDA provided grant money to Texas, and Early Beginnings was awarded one of 11 breastfeeding grants in fiscal year 2012-2013 out of all the child care facilities in Texas, Stovall said. Awards were made based on a competitive application process.

“My goal is to make it easier for families to carry out their breastfeeding decision by providing the resources — the space, supplies, training and referrals — to ensure families are able to provide human milk as long as possible.”

Stovall cited research showing that by breastfeeding infants, mothers provide their children with important immunity to diseases. Based on February 2012 statistics from the Brown County WIC (the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program) office, more than 70 percent of infants born at Brownwood Regional Medical Center were breastfed on their first day of life. But more than half of those mothers will discontinue breastfeeding completely when they go back to work or school. Of the 162 babies under the age of 12 months on the WIC program that month, only 9 percent (15 children) were being breastfeed exclusively, 3 percent (five children) were mostly breastfed, 10 percent (16 infants) were breastfed some, and 78 percent (126 infants) were totally on formula.

“My center is licensed for 83 children,” Stovall said. “Of the 10 children over the last year who have had to have tubes put in their years, all of them were on Medicaid and all of them were bottle fed from the time they were enrolled.”

Stovall said 60 percent of the children enrolled at her center are state-subsidized, qualifying for either Medicaid or CHiPS.

“By promoting and increasing the number of families that breastfeed, we can have a direct impact on the costs to the state for WIC formula, doctor visits and costly surgeries,” Stovall said. “Until now the only local resource has been the WIC office, so women who do not qualify or want to apply for WIC have been on their own in this crucial area.”

Stovall said one of goals of the program is to educate the public through a series of four sessions that will be offered. Those will be open to the public, free of charge, whether those attending are Early Beginnings clients or not.

“It’s OK to breastfeed if you want,” Stovall said, explaining that other members of the family as well as the general public need to appreciate the benefits of breastfeeding and support mothers who do so.

Another goal is to promote the benefits and the procedure of breastfeeding.

“This is how God intended it,” Stovall said. “We want to get rid of the myths. We want to get people talking about it and remove the stigma. I think it’s a good way to improve the general health of our society.”

Another benefit can be financial. A year’s worth of baby formula could cost $1,400, or even more if special formula is required, Stovall said.

Part of the grant will be used to train staff members so they can discuss the breastfeeding program with parents, as well as do the remodeling that will provide mothers with privacy and comfort. Stovall said she plans to create two lactation stations at her center complete with rocking chairs, iPods and a lending library.

“The grant money will allow me to get the word out to our community that it is time to get back to the basics when it comes to feeding our babies,” Stovall said. “We must get out of the fast food mentality we have taken because it has transitioned to our choices on how we feed infants. To build healthier, stronger Texans, we must give our children the best we can, and that best is human milk.”

In addition to the grant, Early Beginnings will be signing on with WIC as the first local participant in its “Mother Friendly Worksite” initiative.

“WIC, being a state-funded program, cannot direcly partner with me on the grant, but the director and I are in agreement that we can collaborate and she can be useful in helping generate interest in my center’s breastfeeding program, so we can reach the families that use WIC and that may be the only support program for them,” Stovall said.