Posted by: Admin | March 22, 2012

What exactly are Breastfeeding Support Groups?

Most mothers want to breastfeed but not all mothers succeed. Even though there are official recommendations made by experts,the success of breastfeeding is usually measured by the mother. Here are the official  WHO recommendations:

Breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months of life (no other food or liquid but breastmilk)

Breastfeeding with added complementary foods for up to 2 years and beyond

These recommendations aim to encourage women all over the world to breastfeed longer, but a woman measures her own success by breastfeeding just as long as she had hoped she would. For example, a woman who wanted to breastfeed for 6 months and stopped at 2 weeks because she could not find a solution to painful nipples considers herself to have failed at breastfeeding her infant. This feeling of failure has serious repercussions on a woman’s self confidence and on her perceived abilities to be a mother. Many women refuse to attempt to breastfeed a second time as they feel they would not be able to stand another failure. Others courageously start breastfeeding again. Some of those succeed but others do not, as the same situation can repeat itself. Many mothers do not receive the needed support to overcome problems and continue breastfeeding. The main reasons why mothers stop to breastfeed after a few days are difficulties with latch on and a perceived lack of breastmilk. Later on, it is low milk supply that comes first, and feeling tied up or too tired to continue breastfeeding takes second place.

Whatever the problems they might encounter, breastfeeding mothers need support. There are many forms of support. A grandmother encouraging her grandchild, now a mother, to continue breastfeeding by sharing her breastfeeding experiences, is one form. A mother coming over to her daughter’s house to clean up, do some laundry and fix her a nice traditional meal is another. A partner taking the other kids out for the afternoon so that the new mother can take some relaxing time for herself and the new baby is also supporting the mother. These types of support all involve an emotional commitment to the mother. It might be difficult for a mother to strongly encourage her daughter to continue breastfeeding when she sees her in so much pain. It can be very disturbing for a father to think his baby is not getting enough milk when he sees his baby having difficulty latching on to the breast. He might be tempted to suggest using a bottle of baby formula. These reactions are normal.

Peer-to-peer breastfeeding support groups offer another type of on-going support. They bring together individuals who live the same thing at the same moment and who have no emotional ties to one another (some exceptions might occur…lol). These individuals sharing the same interest are usually all women. There are some breastfeeding support groups that bring together couples, but these groups are generally more geared towards parenting.

When you put together many mothers with their babies, something magical occurs; a kind of camaderie is slowly established. Babies are experts in the art of cuteness. They attract attention and mesmerize anyone looking at them. It usually starts by a “Jaabwehh…” (“So cute…”, in the Cree language), then goes on to “How old is he?” and then, an exchange occurs. This is where a good support group Leader will make a difference. A short introduction, a open-ended question directed at the right person, and everyone is drawn in the magic moment. Women who are super shy end up sharing their stories encouraged by the chatter of the more extroverted personalities. Mothers exchange experiences, resources and ideas. They have been there, done that, and maternal generosity extends towards anyone speaking in baby language 24 hours on 24. Any and every motherhood subject will be covered: tricks to get a little more sleep, how to soothe a crying baby, how to get some relaxing time with their hubby, to heal birthing wounds, what to eat, etc.

Support groups are usually lead by one person, whom we like to call a Leader. A Leader is not an expert in breastfeeding and she does not own all maternal knowledge, but she is a role-model in her community, has  children, has breastfed, loves to help her community and can easily be reached for information. She does not know everything, but she can link with almost anyone, which means she will be able to get an answer if you give her a little bit of time. For example, if you ask her a breastfeeding question to which she does not know the answer, she has a direct link with the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay’s very own Regional Lactation Consultant. Whatever your question is, whatever the help you need, contacts will be made to help you.

You might be wondering what the difference is between a Breastfeeding Support Group, the Well-Baby clinics, or the nurse’s and CHR’s home visits. For one, a Breastfeeding Support Group is independent and has no direct link with the clinic. When women get together and share their stories, it should be said at each meeting that what is said in the room, remains in that room. An experience shared by someone is only that person’s story to tell, not anyone else’s. This is how we respect motherhood and how we can support each other. You can say anything you want without worrying that it will be repeated to the clinic people. If the Leader considers you have a situation that requires external help, you will be asked first if your story can be related to another source, and you will decide if it goes out of the meeting room.

Confidentiality, being pregnant or having a baby are the only requirements needed to participate in a Breastfeeding Support Group meeting.

Breastfeeding Support Groups typically meet every month at the same location and on the same day and time, but some groups might have a different way of functioning as it is the Leader decides, with the help of the community, how the meetings are organized. Most meetings have planned themes posted in the community so you know what topic you can expect for that meeting, but it is always possible to talk about many other things. Also, if most of the mothers present feel they would rather talk about breastfeeding in public instead of covering the benefits of breastfeeding, the leader will probably do a few short minutes on the planned topic, and then switch to the desired one.

As I am writing this post, only one community has a functioning support group: Ouje-Bougoumou. Minnie Wapachee Bosum is the Leader for the Ouje Breastfeeding Support group. She can be reached at 418-745-2443 or 418-770-8960.  Two other communities have started monthly meetings but are presently in search of a new leader.

If you are interested in being a Breastfeeding Support Group Leader for your community, call the Awash Director of your local community clinic or the Regional Lactation Consultant at 418-923-2204 ext 284.

Here are 2 video clips, one that presents one type of Breastfeeding Support Group lead by a Lactation Consultant in Dublin, Ireland and the other, lead by “Motivaters” from the community of Jakarta in Indonesia, the Hati Kami Project :

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