Smart Start Academy—a childcare center and preschool located in Ocean County, New Jersey—was established in 2000. Its big, sunny facility offers two playgrounds, a strong educational program, and a welcoming staff. When Diana Nabitovsky came on board as director in 2013 following a long corporate career, she sought ways to expand Smart Start’s commitment to its families. At the top of the list was promoting healthy food.
“I applied to the Child and Adult Care Food Program in 2013 and we were approved and started implementation in early 2015. It’s transformative to be able to provide a healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack to every child,” said Nabitovsky. “It was a big hit because some of our families were struggling to access nutritious food.”
The facility is licensed for 158 children, 75% of whom receive subsidies, and 25% of whom pay privately. Smart Start Academy serves children aged six weeks to 13 years old. As a designated emergency child care facility, Smart Start closed for a mere 10 days in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening swiftly and safely to serve parents in the medical field and other essential families.
“We are always thinking how best to serve our families. The healthy food program was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t cover our infants. We have always encouraged breastfeeding mothers to come into our space to nurse, or to send in expressed milk,” said Nabitovsky. “We had a few families who took us up on it, but we realized there was more we could do to make mothers comfortable and raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding.”
Through the New Jersey Child Nutrition Fund (NJCNF), Nabitovsky partnered with Ellen Maughan, a consultant from the New Jersey Breastfeeding Coalition (NJBC). Smart Start Academy staff led Maughan through a virtual tour of the facility, due to COVID-19 visitation restrictions, and discussed its goals for supporting breastfeeding among its families. Maughan then compiled recommendations for breastfeeding-friendly spaces based upon her observations.
“Ellen’s input was invaluable. She’s extremely knowledgeable, and she responded to all of our needs. Over the course of four months, she put together training materials for our staff, pointed us to cost-effective items for our space, and provided materials that we can make available to our families,” said Nabitovsky.
Staff training included education about milk storage, labeling bottles, and creating a comfortable space for nursing mothers. Maughan also helped Smart Start Academy create an info session for parents, as well as a binder of supportive educational materials available to parents on site. Maughan’s recommendations also included items to promote comfort and privacy: portable screens, comfortable chairs and pillows, a table to accommodate a breast pump, and a stool.
“The project was so smooth because we were so aligned with both NJBC and NJCNF in what we wanted to accomplish,” said Nabitovsky. “The only challenge that we have truly experienced was to make our parents more aware of the benefits of breast milk and the changes we have made to support them.”
Nabitovsky feels that families lack the information and incentive to breastfeed. Coming from the corporate sector, where it is not unusual to received paid benefits as a nursing mother, she believes that mothers need more support if they are to be successful on their breastfeeding journey.
“At Smart Start, we care for children, but that means also caring for their families. And we are part of the ecosystem responsible for supporting breastfeeding mothers,” said Nabitovsky.