Archive | Mother to Mother Support

New Families Need Community Support: Beyond Talk into Action

By Jane I. Honikman

I was pregnant, single and alone.  I gave birth in a foreign country, and never saw my baby.  I had no emotional support. 

I was married, and was finally pregnant.  I gave birth, away from my extended family, but with a supportive husband.  We had no emotional support. 

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Photo by familymwr via Flickr Creative Commons

It is these contrasting, yet similar experiences which have motivated me to become passionate about improving the outcomes for babies and their parents.

After the birth of our second child, my friends and I co-founded Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP).  It was conceived from our own needs as struggling young parents, removed from our families, and inundated with professional advice.  What we lacked was a supportive environment where we could share our highs and lows each week, and not be judged or criticized when we admitted to being overwhelmed, scared, or inadequate.  It was about making friends, learning about community resources, and gaining confidence as new parents.

We launched the first ever warmline, staffed entirely by trained parent volunteers, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.  It has been available since July 1, 1977.  I took the first shift that day and received the first call.  I was an ordinary mother actively listening to the needs of another ordinary parent.  We offered free emotional support to other new families.  PEP became our local community’s way to help ease the adjustment of developing families.

We know that communities are human systems where we live, work, learn, pray, and play together.  We tend to gather together based on our cultural values and with a common purpose. It is during pregnancy that the first shift in emotional needs occurs. The arrival of the newborn does interrupt a new parent’s existing community, as well as a good night’s sleep.  Social connections, our networks, exist within each community, yet how do expectant and new families find or create them?  In general, our networks help us find employment, friendship, and provide emotional support and comfort.  We may relish these natural human interactions, take them for granted, or in some cases, ignore them.  Then, the new baby arrives.   The need for community support takes on a different meaning. 

I want to emphasize the importance of community based social support.  Researchers have found that we are healthier and happier when surrounded by supportive peers, family, and friends.   It is with a social support network that we feel a sense of belonging and more secure.  As new parents increase their self-worth by not being isolated and struggling alone, the baby will feel this as well.

Connections between people are also called social capital.  We invest in material goods (physical capital), and value education (human capital).   It is critical that our social networks for new families are consciously created.  Academic scholars have shown that our psychological well-being benefits by having a network of supportive relationships.  Even if a new family has relatives living nearby when a baby arrives, making friends with others experiencing the same life event is vital.

All new parents will experience a wide range of physical and emotional challenges.  The transition from being single, becoming a couple, and then a family cannot happen without many changes.  PEP refers to these as “special circumstances”.   This list consists of every possible “less than easy or wonderful” situation.  For example, had I given birth after PEP was established I would have called the Warmline for emotional support after our son was born.  I would been connected with a volunteer who had had difficulty breastfeeding, who had also supplemented with formula.  I would have been encouraged to join a new parent discussion group where I would have shared how inadequate I felt as a mother.  My peers would also be new parents and eventually I would have felt secure enough to share that I’d placed my first baby for adoption.

My personal journey through parenthood would have been smoother had I had professional support as well as good friends.  Unfortunately, my depression went undiagnosed far too long.  It is ironic that although I had become involved with world leaders in the field of maternal mental health, it took decades to overcome my own denial.

There are many therapists, doctors, and educators who want to work with expectant and new families.  Their role as professionals in pregnancy and postpartum social support networks is to serve as advisors to trained peer volunteers.  A paid childbirth or lactation assistant is not the same as someone who has “been there” and offers empathetic comfort. A support group that is led by a professional is important to deal with stress and illness but it does not substitute for peer to peer support.  In all circumstances, however, they are definitely essential parts of community support.  When a PEP volunteer hears from a Warmline caller about a situation beyond the listeners’ capacity, the caller is referred to his or her own doctor, other professionals, and/or organizations listed in the PEP Community Resource Guide.

Families need and deserve supportive communities to bond with their peers as well as reach out to professional services.  Over the decades, studies consistently show that for good health and emotional well-being we need each other. We know that social interactions are needed for optimum physical and mental health.  The baby and the parents will build lasting friendships, strong personal relationships, and social ties in a community that offers this opportunity.

How supportive is your community for new parents?  Don’t wait for someone else to initiate what might work.  Start asking your friends, peers, family members and work colleagues if they’d like to explore the possibility of a social support network in your community.  You can replicate PEP in your community. It won’t look exactly like PEP. That is impossible since each community is unique. It all starts with a few friends who understand the importance of building a social support network.  Your efforts will be rewarded by meeting the needs of your own new families.

As Margaret Mead wisely said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAJane Honikman, M.S., is a Postpartum Parent Support  Consultant from Santa Barbara, California. In 1977, she co-founded Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP). She founded Postpartum Support International (PSI) in 1987. She lectures internationally on the role of social support and the emotional health of families. Her book, Community Support for New Families: A Guide to Organizing a Postpartum Parent Support Network in Your  Community, is available from Praeclarus Press

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Helping Families in Alaska Access Virtual Breastfeeding Support

By Jessica Harper, IBCLC

Photo by jeff.snodgrass via Flickr

Photo by jeff.snodgrass via Flickr

In this day and age, Google can be a new mother’s best friend. It can also be their worst enemy.

I’m an IBCLC in Fairbanks Alaska and I run a successful virtual breastfeeding support group (through Facebook) for our local WIC clinic. The group started about a year ago and now has over 300 mothers. It’s a great alternative to Google as it’s filled with real live mothers at various stages in lactation, all of whom have encountered their own challenges.

Mothers participate in our closed group multiple times per day and throughout what can be the lonely midnight and morning hours.  Here in the interior of Alaska, winter time temperatures can often dip to -50 below zero. Who wants to take their newborn out in that? The group provides a way for mothers to get critical breastfeeding support from their own homes. This is especially important for those who may have transportation issues. Some mothers hide behind our online Facebook group, never attending an in person breastfeeding support meeting. However for others, the group helps them feel connected and actually encourages them to venture out and meet these moms that they interact with daily. This provides for in-person peer support and often helps encourage relationships.

Subjects range widely. Is my baby getting enough to eat? My baby is biting me, what can I do? Can I use birth control? I need help with breastfeeding, who can I call? Mothers supporting mothers is what keeps the group going. They are able to link one another to online articles, to share information and even videos.

Our WIC clinic has 4 breastfeeding peer counselors that help monitor the group and ensure accurate evidence based information is being provided. One of our peer counselors took a video of her nursing in public in a baby carrier and shared it in our group for all to see. Nursing in public can be intimidating for some, and being able to share that fear with others and explore options for conquering that fear can be helpful. It’s awesome to read when a mom posts about how she nursed in public for the first time that day and just wanted to share with us.

Fairbanks is a big military town. The moms here often have no family living nearby and when they have visitors, or they go home to visit, they can experience anxiety with breastfeeding and what their family is going to think. With smart phones on the rise, the group is available at the touch of a finger. The online group provides a constant source of stable support. A core of other mothers facing similar situations. When partners deploy or spend 12-14 hours a day in the field the mothers have each other.

This group has by far exceeded my expectations. Often, we get moms in the clinic who decline our breastfeeding services but later request to join our Facebook group. While some may not want the phone calls that our breastfeeding peer counselors provide or an in office consultation with me, they are still receiving support.

Since starting this online group our breastfeeding rates have increased! More moms are reaching out, feeling comfortable and getting the support they need. We have flyers posted all over our town promoting our group. While our group is mainly composed of WIC mothers, it is not limited. I feel having a wide range of mothers truly helps the support dynamic amidst the array of challenges a nursing mother can face. It has been rewarding running this group and I look forward to seeing it and others like it grow!

The kind of support that we provide online isn’t unique to Alaska. Just a few weeks ago, Lara Audelo released a book called The Virtual Breastfeeding Culture: Seeking Mother-to-Mother Support in the Digital AgeIn it, she shares stories from more than 30 mothers who have found what they needed to be successful at breastfeeding online. As more and more mothers are seeking information and support on the internet, I encourage more of you to explore whether an online support group is what the women in your community seek.

936744_10151597490791745_1490584438_nJessica Harper currently works for WIC as an IBCLC. She is a LLL Leader & mother to 3 in Fairbanks, Alaska. After experiencing her own breastfeeding challenges, she became a strong advocate in her community. When she’s not supporting breastfeeding mothers, she enjoys gardening, sewing and running.

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Reducing the Breastfeeding Disparities Among African American Women: A Commentary from ROSE, Inc.

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. (ROSE) seeks to enhance, encourage, support, and promote breastfeeding throughout the USA, by working to reduce the breastfeeding disparities among African American women. We also seek to strengthen the health of their families through, mentoring, breastfeeding support groups, social support, outreach, education, health policies and social marketing. ROSE works with national groups to strengthen local groups that serve African Americans who breastfeed.

It is our understanding that a storm is brewing in the lactation community among International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) and the several other lactation certifying organizations to gain the title of grand matron of the breastfeeding world. The African American community needs all the breastfeeding management assistance we can get in order to overcome the breastfeeding disparities in our community. ROSE is grateful for the work that you all do. We understand that breastfeeding promotion is not enough. To be successful, mothers may need hours of skilled help that is provided when needed. We are of the position that there is a need for several levels of lactation managers. There is a need for the novice, the beginner, the intermediate and the expert lactation specialist. We are of the position that EVERY informed person can help a mother to breastfeed. We are in NEED of every advocate who wishes to be involved with lactation management, to be applauded and welcomed to the table of breastfeeding protection. Everyone does not NEED a cardiologist. Everyone does not need a specialist. However, when a specialist is needed, it is wonderful to be able to refer to the IBCLC.

Becoming and maintaining the designation as an IBCLC is a complicated and expensive process. Many of us, concerned with addressing the disparities of breastfeeding in the African American community do not have the luxury of the time that it takes nor the necessary funds to be involved in this complicated process. This is what we have been told by African American health care providers and community organizers as we travel. That some sort of designation is important for the provider of direct lactation services in the hospital, is an underlying theme. We are of the firm belief that EVERY person, that has contact with and cares for mothers and babies in the hospital, should be trained to assist mothers in the hospital with skin to skin, latch and pumping when necessary. Our goal is to have every African American woman who has successfully breastfed a baby help another African American woman breastfeed her baby. Most of these women will never be an IBCLC.

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, Inc. recently coordinated a Breastfeeding Summit which involved African American healthcare providers, community advocates, organizations, and government representatives from throughout the United States. We came together to ponder, discuss and debate the breastfeeding disparities in the African American community. We also celebrated. We celebrated the many accomplishments of the breastfeeding advocates that were gathered. This was an African American “Dream Team” of breastfeeding experts. There were 49 persons who assisted with the planning and execution of the summit. Three were African American IBCLC’s. Ten were African American CLC’s. All were experts at what they brought to the table to assist African American women breastfeed their babies.

Discussions during the Summit included: reforming healthcare through breastfeeding, exemplary lactation projects, consulting with doctors on effective initiatives, samples of breastfeeding support programs, saving our babies, reclaiming our breastfeeding experience, a continuum of care from the hospital to the neighborhood which featured primary care, hospital, community and public health and bridging the gap on breastfeeding disparities. These were the concerns of the experts on the planning committee. They were confirmed to be significant issues in our community by those in attendance. The raging debate about what certifying body should reign supreme in lactation management cannot distract us as we seek to save our babies. We could, however use your help with special situations when the occasion arises. ROSE will continue to be about the business of increasing initiation rates and duration rates of breastfeeding in the African American community.

You may contact ROSE, Inc. by sending email to BreastfeedingRose@gmail.com or visiting their website at BreastfeedingRose.org.

Kimarie Bugg MSN, MPH, is President and CEO of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere Inc. (ROSE), a nonprofit developed to decrease breastfeeding disparities in the African American community. ROSE’s mission is to train African American healthcare providers and community organizations to provide culturally competent encouragement and support so that African American mothers may begin to breastfeed at higher rates and sustain their breastfeeding experience to match the goals expected by the Surgeon General of the United States. Kim has been a bedside breastfeeding counselor in a large metropolitan hospital, managed perinatal and breastfeeding projects and programs at the state level, and has served as a technical advisor to Best Start, as well as for the US Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. Kim was a founding member and officer of Georgia breastfeeding task force (coalition) and SEILCA. Kim was trained at Wellstart International and has traveled throughout the United States and several foreign countries training healthcare professionals to manage lactation. Kim previously worked for Emory University, school of medicine, department of pediatrics as a nurse practitioner. She also provides the training for Georgia’s WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, a proud position held since 2005. Kim is married to Dr. George Bugg Jr, a neonatologist and they have five breastfed children.

Mary Nicholson Jackson, CLC, works in a large urban hospital as a breastfeeding consultant and is the co-president of the Georgia State Breastfeeding coalition. Mary is Vice President of ROSE She is on numerous committees and task forces that address breastfeeding and lactation management in the community. She previously worked with Healthy Mother, Healthy Babies of Georgia. Mary is married and the mother of three adult children. She has three grandchildren.

Betty Neal, R.N., MSN, is a founding member of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere Inc. (ROSE), a nonprofit developed to decrease breastfeeding disparities in the African American community. ROSE’s mission is to train African American healthcare providers and community organizations to provide culturally competent encouragement and support so that African American mothers may begin to breastfeed at higher rates and sustain their breastfeeding experience to match the goals expected by the Surgeon General of the United States. Betty has worked in women’s health for over 30 years. She completed certification as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner from Emory University. She recently retired from the State of Georgia Department of Human Resources, DeKalb County Board of Health as a public health nurse and program administration where she managed, developed and implemented numerous statewide and local public health programs. Her past experiences include instruction in a baccalaureate nursing program and mother-baby nursing in a large urban hospital. She has an passion for mothers and babies and believes we must support and ”nurture our mothers who will nurture our babies”.

Andrea Serano, a ROSE Inc. staff member, is from North Hollywood CA., and attended Mount St. Mary’s College with a major in Healthcare Policy and minor in Business Administration. During her course of studies, she participated in the Washington Semester Program- Transforming Communities at American University. She has interned at the U.S. Department of Health and Humans Service in the Office on Women’s Health and at Great Beginnings for Black Babies. Andrea has participated in breastfeeding awareness movements through the use of social media and hopes to one day establish a young women’s development center in the country of Belize.

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The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding

By Virginia Thorley, OAM, PhD, IBCLC, FILCA

Mother support for breastfeeding has been my passion for more years that I care to admit, starting when Marian Tompson, La Leche League’s first president, provided me with the confidence and encouragement to reverse iatrogenic lactation failure and successfully breastfeed my first daughter. At the time, I was living in remote north-west Queensland and Marian was in Chicago, the other side of the world. There was no email or Skype, international calls were prohibitively expensive, and we did not have easy telephone access. So contact was by letter, supported by printed material – a newspaper reprint, “Mother’s milk saves baby”, and the LLL book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, which arrived in the nick of time.

After writing and speaking on mother support groups over the years, the logical next step was a book of information on old and new ways of providing this support, drawing on experience from round the world. Finding the right co-editor was important, and friends in WABA recommended Melissa Vickers. What an inspired recommendation! Melissa was the ideal collaborator, with professionalism and heart, and we thought alike in so many ways. It has been a joy to work with her. We also had a small support team who acted as a sounding board – Rebecca Magalhaes (USA), Sarah Amin (Malaysia) and Paulina Smith (Mexico).

The resultant book, The 10th Step and Beyond: Mother Support for Breastfeeding,
describes a range of ways to support mothers to continue breastfeeding after they leave
the maternity hospital. While mother support for breastfeeding is the 10th Step of the Ten
Steps for Successful Breastfeeding, which hospitals must fulfill in order to be accredited
as Baby Friendly, the chapter authors of this book go beyond this to look at mother support in a wider context.

Melissa and I have brought together experienced people from five continents to describe
what is being done to support mothers to breastfeed in different situations and cultures.

Some chapters describe traditional mother-to-mother groups such a La Leche League,
the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the Scandinavian and Malaysian groups.
Others describe innovative approaches to mother support through the use of new
technology such as text messaging (MumBubConnect), a peer counsellor program in a
Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, groups for mothers of multiples, and the Baby Café drop-
in centres. Other authors describe how peer counselling programs have been developed
in a variety of settings, for example in Bangladesh, India, Paraguay and South Africa,
occasionally with male breastfeeding peer counsellors as part of the team. Steps to
encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended six months, and breastfeeding
with complementary foods thereafter, are described by some of the authors. Finally, the
authors discuss why good programs fail and what is needed for sustainability.

Mother support is not only about providing a mother-to-mother breastfeeding support
group or a peer counsellor program, but it is something the whole community can be
involved in. This book provides ideas to get you and your workplace or community
started. The intended audience is hospitals, departments of health, non-government
organizations, BFHI committees at hospital, state and national level round the world,
and individual health workers and policy makers whose work involves the breastfeeding
mother and her baby.

The editors have donated their royalties to support the work of the World
Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA).

“The 10th Step and Beyond is about supporting the mothers. Virginia Thorley and Melissa Clark Vickers have brought together a truly remarkable mix of 26 people, a team that reflects both the global character of the issue, as well as its multidimensional nature.”
-Professor Anwar Fazal, Chairperson Emeritus, WABA

How has mother-to-mother support impacted your breastfeeding relationship?

*** Watch this space on Thursday for a follow-up piece by Dr. Thorley’s co-editor, Melissa Vickers on the power of making connections. ***

Dr. Virginia Thorley has been involved in the breastfeeding field since qualifying as a breastfeeding counselor in 1966 with both La Leche League and the Australian Breastfeeding Association (then the Nursing Mothers’ Association). She certified as an IBCLC in 1985 and remains certified. She was inducted as a Fellow of the International Lactation Consultant Association (FILCA) in 2008. She is on the Board of Directors of the Lactation Consultants of Australia & New Zealand (LCANZ). A cultural historian of the history of medicine, she holds two research high degrees in History (MA and PhD) and has many publications

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