The problem at hand
In New York State, 81% of all babies start out breastfeeding, but by age three months 67% of all babies are partially or fully formula fed. By six months, that number rises to 87% according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card.
Only 13% of American babies are exclusively breastfed to 6 months. Among African-American babies, the rates are significantly lower, 58% start out breastfeeding, and 28% breastfeed at six months, with 8% exclusively breastfed at six months.
The baby milk muscle.
For nearly one hundred years corporations have successfully muscled into the business of feeding babies. Ulster County, NY is home to the farm of Gail Borden, and his invention, Eagle Sweetened Condensed Milk, which was first touted as a high nutrition infant formula in the 1860s.
Lovable cash cow Elsie sealed the deal with her wholesome, bashful ways. A fresh market of 130 million new babies born each year worldwide is hard to pass up by multinational pharmaceutical companies who position infant formula as a convenient, safe alternative to breastfeeding. The Nestlé Corporation, didn't invent formula samples, they took it to a new level and earned the moniker "The Baby Killers" and a 4 decades-long consumer boycott for their efforts.
Today, every mom can count on ample free formula samples "just in case breastfeeding doesn't work out." And most willingly accept and use it without knowing the risks or having access to support and resources that nearly guarantee that breastfeeding will work out.
Bottle-feeding is the norm and images of bottles and bottle-fed babies are everywhere.
“Why is this a problem? I had formula and I turned out OK.”
Every medical association including: The New York State Health Department, The American Academy of Pediatrics, College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, The Surgeon General, The Center for Disease Control and The World Health Organization, recommend most babies exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and continue breastfeeding along with complementary foods for a year or more. The United States Healthy People 2020 objectives for breastfeeding are: 82% ever breastfed, 61% at 6 months, and 34% at 1 year.
There are many health benefits:
- Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
- Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma.
- Children who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese.
- Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
There are also economic benefits of breastfeeding:
- Families who follow optimal breastfeeding practices can save between $1,200–$1,500 by not buying infant formula in the first year alone.
- A study published last year in the Journal of Pediatrics estimated that if 90% of U.S. families followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the U.S. would annually save $13 billion from reduced medical and other costs.
- For both employers and employees, better infant health means fewer health insurance claims, less employee time off to care for sick children, and higher productivity.
- Mutual of Omaha found that health care costs for newborns are three times lower for babies whose mothers participate in the MUTUAL OF OMAHA'S employee breastfeeding program.
American culture has at least 10 barriers to breastfeeding.
We don't live in a breastfeeding culture, therefore, we don't breastfeed our babies.
We give lip service to the mother-baby bond then do many things to come between a mother and her baby. During pregnancy, mothers are encouraged to rely on external monitoring such as weight, measurements, ultrasound and radiology in order to connect with their baby. Yet, many mothers do sense very intuitive, accurate impressions of their baby.
During birth, medical professional routinely apply interventions known to disrupt bonding in animals. Our culture has lost connection with nature's way and most people don't even consider these interventions abnormal anymore.
In the first weeks, mother's lack skilled breastfeeding helpers to answer their many questions.
As mother's get out and about in the world with their babies, they face societal pressure to wean.
Mothers are returning to work much too soon after birth because the US has no paid government maternity leave.
It is a testimony to the human spirit and drive for connection that any mothers are successful breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding doesn't happen in a vacuum. Breastfeeding mothers living in communities where bottle feeding is the preferred method of infant feeding still enjoy the same, health benefits, empowerment and intimacy with their child as mothers in breastfeeding communities. What they miss out on is the love, support and encouragement from other mothers. Statistically, they are more likely to wean earlier.
Many people are working to improve breastfeeding rates.
The 2011 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding outlines steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breastfeed their babies.
1. Policymakers can support compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, support small non-profit organizations that promote breastfeeding in African-American communities, increase funding of high-quality research on breastfeeding and support better tracking of breastfeeding rates and factors, such as birth practices and maternity leave, that affect breastfeeding.
2. Hospitals can incorporate the recommendations of UNICEF/WHO’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
3. The health care community can provide breastfeeding education for all health care workers and provide access to International Board Certified Lactation Consultants.
4. Employers can start and maintain high-quality breastfeeding programs for employees, provide clean places for mothers to breastfeed and establish paid family leave for their employees.
5. Community leaders can strengthen programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling, create programs to educate fathers and grandmothers about breastfeeding and create community organizations to promote and support breastfeeding so that families and friends of mothers can give mothers the support and encouragement they need to breastfeed.
Café Mama does just that. Cafe Mama is about promotion, support, education and encouragement of breastfeeding.
Café Mama is a place, a space, and a way of life. It’s where mothers and babies connect. Where mothers make friends and become more confident, satisfied moms who are in tune with their baby's needs. It's a place where babies and children are important. It's a place where mamas consistently meet and exceed their breastfeeding goals.
A mother who came to the Mom's group asked if she could bring her friend who was bottle-feeding.
I said, "Of course! All mothers are welcome."
She said, " I thought so. but I never see any bottle feeding moms here. Why is that?"
I said, "Because when you come to a group and see all the moms sitting in a circle breastfeeding, taking care of their babies and nursing naturally and easily when each baby needs to feed, you think that is normal and you keep breastfeeding. If you came and mothers were bottle feeding, you would think that was normal and you would start bottle-feeding to fit into the group."
Café Mama is about mothers and babies growing and changing together through shared experiences. What makes humans different from other mammals is our emotions. As humans, we all long for the right connection with others, a safe connection that sustains us emotionally. When we connect with other people, we change and we change each other.
Newborn babies have an inborn drive to move toward the breast and feed themselves. Mothers have an innate knowing that gently assists their little one to fulfill their journey. Breastfeeding is that first connection. Our very first experience of being in the world.
Connection, change, sharing and growth are qualities that make us humans. It is how we relate with each other, with the world we live in, and with the planet that sustains us. Without these fundamental qualities, our lives and our babies' lives aren't meaningful, let alone possible.
In 2010 I had a dream.
A visionary dream, that mothers in New Paltz had a place to meet with other mothers for breastfeeding support, encouragement and friendship. Not 30 minutes away, not once a month - a mom might go crazy in a month - but weekly. That weekly group turned into 4 groups and people dropping in all day long to hang out. That was OK, but my office was so small! I dreamed of a bigger space.
In 2015, I leased a bigger space and planned a space for classes and meetings. I dreamed about food and hot tea and coffee. I dreamed of Café Mama.
It's 2016. I have a full time dedicated space, I need help creating educational programs, organizing promoting and running classes and meetings. I need help cleaning so babies are in a safe and sanitary place. And most importantly, mamas need to know about Café Mama and use the space.
The biggest problem I have faced in the past, is that many mothers never heard about my Mother's Circles. They never heard about the wonderful groups, classes and events we have, and worst of all, women went without help because they don't know about my lactation consultation services, clinics or free services.
Café Mama needs community support.
We are launching a fundraising campaign to help us pay for staffing, a community webspace, rent, heat, and supplies for Café Mama. Crowdfunding raises money, awareness and support for dreams. Crowdfunding brings together people passionate about a project. I've donated to campaigns because I feel a connection and passion for the people who took a risk, put their ideas on the line and asked for help.
"Changing the world, one mama and one baby at a time is what I do best. Now, I wonder what would happen if Café Mama helped 10,000 or 100,000 mamas and babies have more health and happiness."
What have I learned from the mothers in the group? WHEN ONE NEEDS HELP, ASK FOR HELP!
If you have a worthy cause, people will want to help you. In fact, people are waiting to help you because we all long to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It feels good because connecting with others is the basis of our human existance.