XENIA — A WIC dietitian, breastfeeding coordinator and lactation consultant retired after nearly 34 years with Greene County Public Health April 12.
Nancy Cohen, of Beavercreek, began her work at GCPH as the WIC director in July 1985. She had worked as a nutritionist in Pennsylvania for two years before moving to Ohio, where she held the director position for seven years. When her son was born, she began working part time as a WIC dietitian.
The birth of her son, a premature baby, led her to the next step in her career.
“At that point I knew I was determined to breastfeed him. I knew I wanted him to be as healthy as possible …,” Cohen said. “I already knew it [breastfeeding] was really important but having nursed my teeny, tiny premature baby and having that be a successful experience kind of inspired me. And I wanted that for other women, too, to be able to have that same experience.”
In the mid ’90s, Cohen became the breastfeeding coordinator for WIC, then an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in 1996. She said it’s been gratifying to see the percentage of mothers who breastfeed their newborns dramatically increase over the years.
“It’s been a long, slow process for people to really understand that breastfeeding isn’t something strange that you do; it’s the way that we’re supposed to feed babies and there are not only health benefits but emotional benefits,” Cohen said. “It’s the natural first step after you give birth — your body is preparing to breastfeed and that’s the way you nurture your baby after your baby is born. Your body is ready to provide that next step in good nutrition and keeping your baby healthy through breastfeeding.”
Cohen said helping new mothers became a passion for her.
“I love it. It’s such an opportunity to have an influence on people from the very beginning,” Cohen said. “ … having that good foundation and starting out with the perfect food for them … it protects babies from being sick and helps their development in so many ways.”
Through WIC, Cohen worked in the clinic with moms, newborns and children up to 5 years — not only helping moms with breastfeeding issues but also showing parents how their child was growing and talking about their child’s eating habits.
She also supervised breastfeeding peer helpers — former WIC participants who had breastfed their babies and now act as support people for new moms.
“That’s kind of another way I’ve been able to touch people’s lives over the years — to help those women to learn a lot about helping other families to grow in their role as a counselor for these moms,” Cohen said.
But even working in a positive, helpful environment has its challenges.
“There’s a lot of need out there — families who have distress in various ways. We see results of the opioid epidemic. We see families who are very low income and struggling to feed their families and that’s hard,” she said. “We do our very best and it’s gratifying to know that we have been able to set them, even in small ways, on a path to make better choices for their families.”
Cohen said she’ll miss her co-workers, the families, and feeling like she’s making a difference. But she’s excited for retirement, and plans to continue to give back to the community in some way.
“There’s so many families that have let me in and let me know about them and their families and how they feed their kids … and that’s really been a privilege to be allowed to contribute to their family’s development and growth in that way. I feel very lucky to have gotten to do this,” she said. “It’s nice to feel like for almost 34 years I’ve hopefully helped Greene County families be a little healthier.”