- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
It's a soft, flannel blanket or cover-up that provides privacy to breast-feeding mothers and their newborns, but it's much more than that.
It's a 4-H project launched in 2013 by longtime Dixon 4-H leader Audrey Ritchey, an x-ray technician at the North Bay Medical Center, Fairfield. It helps promote breast-feeding and its many health and bonding benefits.
To date, Solano County 4-H'ers, under Ritchey's direction, have sewn 1,000 one-yard blankets for the new moms at North Bay.
“I was told that one mom started to cry when she got the cover-up,” Ritchey said. “She stated that it was the only thing she had for her baby.”
Ritchey, a co-community leader of the Tremont 4-H Club, Dixon, and vice president of the Solano County 4-H Leaders' Council, recalled that “three years ago I thought that 4-H was missing an opportunity to share the 4-H program with new moms at North Bay.”
She contacted a director at North Bay and learned about “a baby friendly program that encourages new moms to breast feed and have skin-to-skin contact with their newborns.”
So, Ritchey, along with a group of 4-H youth and their parents, gave birth, so to speak, to the “Cuddle Me Close” cover-up project. It is her pattern and her sewing machines.
Ritchey applied for and received a 4-H Revolution of Responsibility grant. They've toured the North Bay Medical Center. They've given presentations at the hospital and at club and community events. Two years ago, a Girl Scout troop donated $250 from their cookie sales and many nurses have donated their Christmas gift cards to the project.
The project is closely linked to the 4-H Pledge:
“I pledge my head to clearer thinking
My heart to greater loyalty
My hands to larger service, and
My health to better living
For my club, my community, my country and my world.”
Ritchey says the youngsters in her project not only learn how to sew, but learn to connect with one another, learn to budget, and fulfill a public service need. Studies show that breast milk contains antibodies that help babies fight off viruses and bacteria and lowers the risk of allergies, ear infections, respiratory illnesses and bouts of diarrhea. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of childhood obesity.
Ritchey said the project “promotes mother-baby bonding through skin-to-skin contact, supports positive and physical and mental development, is healthier for mother and child and is inexpensive in comparison to formula."
“As long as I have youth that want to do this I will keep making them,” Ritchey vows.
In addition to the sewing project, Ritchey teaches a number of countywide 4-H projects, including poultry, rabbits and cavies (guinea pigs).
The 4-H Youth Development Program is a non-profit youth educational program administered through the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension. In 4-H, youths from ages 5 to 19 learn skills through hands-on learning and have fun doing it, said Valerie Williams, Solano County 4-H program representative. The international organization draws youth from all ethnic, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds who live in rural, suburban, and urban communities. The four H's in 4-H stand for head, heart, hands, and health. Its motto is “To make the best better.”
The heart of 4-H's hands-on learning are age-appropriate projects within each club. 4-H is more than “cows and chickens.” Each project focuses on a topic, anything from A (art) to Z (zoology). Among the many projects: animal sciences, bicycling, camping, computers, drama, entomology, leadership, music, photography, quilting, rocketry, textile arts, and woodworking.
For information on the Solano County 4-H Program, access http://cesolano.ucanr.edu or contact Valerie Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org or (707) 784-1319. For donations of fabric or funds to the “Cuddle Me Close” 4-H project, contact Audrey Ritchey at email@example.com.