Twice a month, the Lactation Department of Beth Israel Medical Center offers a breastfeeding support group: “The Breastfeeding Café.” Expectant parents often ask us why a support group is necessary for such a “natural” process.
Breastfeeding is certainly natural. It is how a mother’s body expects and prepares during pregnancy to feed the baby. The act of bringing a baby to breast, the “art” of breastfeeding, is a learned skill. The old adage “it takes a village” definitely applies to breastfeeding. In the past, your mom, your grandmother, your sisters, your nieces, aunts and friends all would have breastfed. We lived in communities where every mother became a “lactation consultant,” since all women breastfed their babies. In essence, we learned to breastfeed our babies by watching the other women in the “village” feed their own babies.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, breastfeeding rates have decreased due to many factors: people moving away from their communities; industrialization; women leaving their babies home when they go to work; heavy marketing by the infant formula industry convincing women that formula is “just like” breast milk.
Research shows that women who get support from their family and friends are much more likely to succeed at breastfeeding than those who do not. But it is now possible to grow up not knowing anyone who breastfed their baby. As a first-time mother 20 years ago, I had seen only one woman breastfeeding her baby. How could I possibly have learned to breastfeed having virtually no exposure to it at all?
My experience is not uncommon. Most of the women we work with at Beth Israel know that breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for themselves and their babies. However, many women are unaware that getting breastfeeding off to a good start can be challenging.
At our support group, we offer some “hands on” help teaching mothers to position their babies at the breast, but we feel the most important thing we do is let our Café “villagers” support and teach one another. It is so satisfying to see mothers talking to each other during the Café, sharing their personal experiences and wisdom.
Support like this is the reason I successfully breastfed my babies and why I am now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). When we hear women exchanging e-mails and arranging to meet outside the Café, we know we have given those women the most important support we can offer: each other.
For more information about The Breastfeeding Café, call us at (212) 420-2093. For additional breastfeeding resources, please visit The Breastfeeding Center of Manhattan web site.