Breastfeeding Resiliency, Engagement, and Empowerment (BFREE) Team offers weekly, virtual support helping families access lactation services amidst pandemic

Before the onset of COVID, families living in four catchment areas on Long Island: Glen Cove, Islip, Wyandanch, and Southampton, could find breastfeeding support groups at many community establishments. In-person baby cafes following Baby Café USA’s structure were hosted at community centers, libraries, food pantries, churches, etc. 

On a mission to create supportive, breastfeeding-friendly communities along the care continuum– in obstetric and pediatric practices, child care centers, worksites, and community support groups– the Breastfeeding Resiliency, Engagement, and Empowerment (BFREE) Team at Cohen Children’s Medical Center has adapted to COVID times and is now offering free virtual breastfeeding support groups led by lactation professionals each week so that families can continue to access lactation services amidst the pandemic.

BFREE aims to reduce racial, ethnic, and community disparities in medically underserved neighborhoods. Their efforts are part of a five-year grant funded by the New York State Department of Health. Today, BFREE uses a virtual HIPAA-compliant video platform that families can easily access twice a week, no matter where they are, with the option of Spanish translation. They also offer a toll-free telephone conference line.  

BFREE team member Abby Coco, BA reports that they’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from families thus far. 

“They’ve expressed liking the ability to get help in the comfort of their own homes,” she says. 

With this in mind, when COVID limitations begin to lift, the team plans to resume in-person support groups, but they’re also considering the option of maintaining a virtual platform for those who prefer this method.  

This summer, Long Island weathered a storm that left many families without power. One mother during the virtual baby cafe expressed concern about safely storing her milk. Another mother heard her worry, and offered to drive to her home to retrieve her milk, and store it for her until her power returned. 

“It’s awesome to see mothers in nearby communities willing to help each other out even when socially distanced,” Coco comments.  

She adds, “It’s also awesome to see moms who continue to return to our groups and become mini experts based on their own experiences.”

Several BFREE team members and Former Associate Program Coordinators are Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC). Coco is currently completing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). She says the content is “really applicable” to their work, specifically to better support mothers, but also to help them engage with community partners and to provide educational resources.  

“Having a deeper understanding [of infant feeding] has been extremely influential in helping us be able to do our jobs better,” she says. 

In addition to helping establishments achieve criteria for the New York State Ten Steps to a Breastfeeding Friendly Practice, BFREE provides funds to staff to complete the LCTC.  

Overall, Coco reports that community organizations are receptive to their work, although they have run into some roadblocks with religious organizations who think their work is “a little too progressive,” she says. 

What’s more, “during Covid, so many people are overwhelmed and don’t think they have the capacity to take on another project,” Coco explains. 

She notes that a lull here hasn’t been particularly detrimental considering they have already saturated neighborhoods with breastfeeding-friendly establishments. 

“It’s a good problem to have,” she laughs. 

Fostering partnerships and strengthening networks not only makes advocates’ jobs easier, it makes the job of being a parent easier too. 

You can connect with BFREE and their services on Facebook

Their next virtual baby cafe is Tuesday evening.

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