Left to right: Judy Fram, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Afsa Golo, Breastfeeding Peer Counselor at the Baby Café staff with Jin Yao Li (CLC) Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), author of this post.
World Breastfeeding Week was August 1st to 7th and August is National Breastfeeding Month. For my summer internship between my first and second year of medical school, I worked with Bronx Health REACH on their breastfeeding initiative. As a Certified Lactation Counselor, I chose this internship, because of my passion for improving women’s health and promoting breastfeeding. I believe it is one way to address the high rates of diabetes and obesity in the South Bronx.
Breastfeeding should be part of preventive care because there is compelling research showing that breastfed children have lower rates of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and obesity.1 From 2014 to 2016, the Bronx had 41.6% WIC infants that were breastfed in their first 6 months compared to overall New York City rate of 47.5%.2 According to the World Health Organization, infants should be breastfed exclusively for their first 6 months of life for optimal growth, development, and health.3 Hence, it is crucial that mothers get breastfeeding support in these early critical months of their infant’s life.
One of my tasks was to assist at the NYC Baby Café Bronx located at Morrisania –Gotham Health in the South Bronx every Thursday. My role at the Baby Café was to set up a welcoming and comfortable environment for the mothers. I was also involved in documenting their reasons for the visit.
I learned about the concept of a Baby Café during my Certified Lactation Consultant training but I had never been to one. The Baby Café associated with Morrisania WIC is a free, drop-in service that offers breastfeeding support for pregnant and new parents in the community and welcomes any family members or supporters. I also discovered that the Baby Café provided a comforting environment for the mothers to share their experiences while getting support from experienced staff who are International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC), healthcare professionals who provide clinical management for breastfeeding through education and counseling. The goal is to improve breastfeeding exclusivity as well as help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. I had the chance to learn about breastfeeding obstacles and possible solutions as the staff shared their experiences as breastfeeding counselors.
Breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience. It may also be challenging for some moms, especially during the early weeks. Some moms have situations which may require the assistance of a lactation professional. A mom may lack confidence about whether her baby is getting enough or may be experiencing pain or discomfort or she may have other issues that may be resolved with the help of an IBCLC at the Baby Café.
Moms come to the Baby Café for a variety of reasons, including concerns about the baby’s weight gain, returning to work or school, and to have a safe space to talk about mothering with other moms.
One of the moms recently came to the Baby Café with concerns about her baby’s weight. Her family members did not have confidence in breastfeeding and encouraged her to supplement her baby with large amounts of formula. After listening to her situation, one of the Lactation Counselors at the Baby Café took the time to measure the baby’s weight accurately. “Your baby’s weight is right on the 50th percentile. It’s perfect. You’re doing a very good job,” said the Lactation Counselor. The mom was relieved. “This is something I will show to my family [to show them] that I am doing the right thing by breastfeeding only,” she said pointing to her baby’s weight on the growth chart. The Lactation Counselor provided guidance on how the mom could maintain her milk supply as she returns to work.
This mother stood by her decision despite the advice of family and friends, which was very courageous of her. She was grateful for the information and assistance provided by the Baby Café staff. But imagine a mother who is hesitant about breastfeeding, and may have family members who are discouraging her from doing it. Where would she go for support? It is very important that mothers get the support they need, whether it be education about breastfeeding or words of encouragement from others. We need to do a better job of making sure mothers in the community know about these free resources.
During my internship, I gained an understanding of the underlying causes of breastfeeding disparities, something I would have never gotten from my classes. My experience working at the Baby Café will guide me when I become a healthcare provider.
The NYC Baby Café Bronx located at 1225 Gerard Avenue (on Gerard between 167th and 168th streets), Bronx NY, offers FREE breastfeeding support every Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Siblings and partners are welcome to attend. Light refreshments are served. For more information, contact Afsa Golo or Judy Fram at (718) 960-2792.
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Benefits of Breastfeeding.
2. New York State Department of Health. New York State Community Health Indicator Reports(CHIRS) - Percentage of WIC infants breastfeeding at least 6 months, 2014-2016.
3. World Health Organization. (2001). The World Health Organization's infant feeding recommendation.