Making Breastfeeding Support a Community Affair
Posted May 14, 2015 by Kristen Holmstrand
In Plattsburgh, a small town in upstate New York, creating a support group for breastfeeding mothers may have been driven by the local hospital, but it quickly became the community's baby.
In its journey to improve maternity care practices, the Alice T. Miner Center for Women and Children (CWC) at the University of Vermont Health Network - Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital, a participant in the New York State Breastfeeding Quality Improvement in Hospitals (BQIH) Collaborative
led by NICHQ, recently identified a gap in its offerings for mothers. Although it offered a prenatal breastfeeding class, the hospital needed to improve its breastfeeding support for mothers following discharge, one of the requirements of the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding
Working with the Clinton County Health Department breastfeeding coalition, Hospital CWC Director Maria C. Hayes, RN, envisioned a support group that would be a safe, casual and welcoming place for mothers, pregnant women and fathers to get their questions answered about breastfeeding and to connect with others. But there were a few special requirements. One was they didn’t want it to be at the hospital.
“We wanted our moms and dads to identify the support group as part of their community and neighborhood. Having the group at the hospital would have been okay, but it would still be in a hospital—with paging going off and other noises,” says Hayes. “We wanted to create a home-like environment that was comfortable and welcoming, and for it to be centrally located and near a bus route for easy access.”
CWC and the breastfeeding coalition knew from experience the importance of connecting with the community. They had previously partnered with community organizations and the Clinton County Health Department for Big Latch On
events and other breastfeeding education efforts, such as teaching local businesses how to support their employees who are breastfeeding and pumping.
Hayes knew that the biggest challenge for the support group would be finding inexpensive—or, ideally, free—meeting space. Once again, the community was the key to success. One of the CWC's lactation consultants contacted the pastor of the Plattsburgh House of Prayer. It turned out that the church was also looking for new ways to serve the community, and donated the meeting space. A bonus, the church is conveniently located on the local bus route.
With a grant from the Foundation of Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital to purchase furniture and provide refreshments, including water, coffee, veggies and other healthy snacks, the breastfeeding support group café was born. The group, which held its grand opening at the end of March, is currently open twice a week, every other week. The sessions are staffed by certified lactation consultants who volunteer their time to provide breastfeeding answers and advice to anyone considering breastfeeding.
The group/café also connects mothers with other mothers to provide much-needed peer-to-peer breastfeeding support and camaraderie. Women have the opportunity to share their breastfeeding experiences and struggles and to offer and gather advice about practical issues like going back to work. They are encouraged to bring their infants and other children, and there is space in the middle of the room where the children can play.
Keys to success
Just two months old, the group has been bringing local mothers together, with new women coming each session. Hayes attributes the positive response to the planning and pre-work of CWC and the breastfeeding coalition, especially bringing all stakeholders to the table, including physicians, hospital staff, public health leaders and mothers. Participation and support from Chief of Pediatrics Anthony Ching, MD, enabled the group to identify and apply for the grant that funds the cafe. Mothers were part of the planning, both formally and by hospital staff surveying moms as they left the hospital. “The best ideas come from the patients,” says Hayes.
CWC also received support from the hospital's marketing department, which resulted in the local news station and newspaper being there on opening day. Even the student newspaper from the State University of New York (SUNY) Plattsburgh covered the event. Local doctors' offices and the hospital's lactation clinic all inform their patients of the support group café and its benefits.
Hayes also believes that the group's success has been bolstered by the recent national media coverage and social media support for breastfeeding. But, above all, community support and dedication have been key. Hayes advises, “You have to have passion. If you have that, then you'll find a way to do it.”