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Monique Sims, a registered dietician and lactation specialist, left, speaks with Lena Johnson, a registered nurse with Health Ministries, in the new lactation room at Solomon Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Pittsburg, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013. On Saturday, the church will host a community baby shower for pregnant African-American women to provide education tips about having healthy babies. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

PITTSBURG -- Breast-feeding has long been viewed as important when it comes to raising healthy babies, but the practice can be a challenge to keep up with after leaving the hospital. African-American women, in particular, are less likely to breast-feed their newborns, according to local health officials.

To address that disparity, a community baby shower geared toward African-American expectant mothers and their partners will take place Saturday at Solomon Temple Missionary Baptist Church. The free event will provide educational tips on having healthy babies, with a focus on the importance of breast-feeding and connecting expectant mothers with other women who can provide peer support and encouragement.

Breast-feeding an infant for at least six months helps reduce infection rates as a result of antibodies provided through a mother's milk, according to research cited by Contra Costa County health officials. Breast-fed babies are also less likely to become overweight or susceptible to chronic disease.

The practice also helps moms lose pregnancy pounds and reduces risk for breast and ovarian cancer later on.

In Contra Costa, 73 percent of African-American women exclusively breast-feed their infants while in the hospital following delivery, compared with 85 percent of white mothers, according to 2012 data from the state Department of Public Health.

While those numbers are encouraging, it's a different story after leaving the hospital, according to 2012 data provided by the county's Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food vouchers to low-income women. Two months after giving birth, only 16 percent of African-American women have continued to exclusively nurse their infants, compared with 30 percent of white women.

"The support a mother receives in those critical first weeks of life determine if they are going to successfully meet their prenatal breast-feeding goals," Monique Sims, the regional breast-feeding liaison for Contra Costa Health Services' WIC program, said in an email. "Many mothers, especially African-American moms, do not receive the support they need during this time and offer formula instead.

"Our hospitals are doing a great job of encouraging and supporting breast-feeding, but more postpartum outpatient projects like this one need to be in place to improve the support for mothers when they return home and have competing priorities."

More than 125 expectant mothers, along with 50 dads-to-be, are expected to attend Saturday's event, believed to be the first of its kind in Contra Costa County. It also ties in with World Breastfeeding Week, which runs Aug. 1-7.

In addition to hosting the event, the church has remodeled a room to accommodate nursing mothers and staff members. The room features rocking chairs and additional electrical outlets to accommodate breast pumps. Plans also call for a video screen to be installed so that nursing women can view church services.

"We are so concerned about empowering mothers and infants," Pastor Victor Brice said. "We want to make it comfortable for the moms."

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her at Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.

community baby shower
When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Solomon Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 655 California Ave. Pittsburg
Information or registration: 925-646-5200 or mewbabyshower.eventbrite.com
Event sponsors include Los Medanos Community Healthcare District, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center Auxiliary, Kaiser Permanente and the March of Dimes.