Liz Chang’s 26-month-old son Christopher asks to nurse in three different languages: Spanish, English and Mandarin.
“He says leche, breasts and mumbles some words in Chinese that mean ‘breasts’,” she says. “He overflows my heart with joy when he is nursing.”
Chang’s breastfeeding journey started when she and her husband found out that they were going to be parents for the first time. Eager to educate themselves about their infant feeding options, they invested a lot of time attending not-so-easy-to-find maternal child health seminars.
But when Christopher was born tongue-tied, breastfeeding became an unexpected struggle. His tongue-tie was not discovered early on at the maternity hospital; instead, Chang embarked on an exhausting journey through a First Food Desert, desperately searching for proper lactation care.
Frustrated with the lack of postpartum support in the Lehigh Valley community of Easton, Pa., Chang found solace in her instinct.
“As a new mom, my heart’s desire has been to listen and to carefully follow my motherly instinct,” she says. “I believe this instinct is powerful and I needed to trust it. I knew deep in my heart that no matter how difficult breastfeeding was at the time, I was going to do it.”
Still searching for professional lactation support, Chang’s husband and other family members stood by her side offering what helping hand they could.
Eventually, Chang found the technical assistance she and her son needed to continue their breastfeeding relationship.
“When our baby finally latched and he was satisfied with my milk, I was in heaven!” she exclaims. “Seeing our baby happy, smiling, and so in love with his mother’s breast milk has been a marvelous experience. All my struggles were well worth it.”
Those challenges were what then inspired her to take Healthy Children Project’s The Lactation Counselor Training Course.
“I knew I needed to learn more about breastfeeding,” Chang says. “All the information presented at my training was super valuable.”
“I knew that the information and studies that I had in my hands needed to be given to the public,” she says. “Talking to the instructors, listening to their own stories, hearing their powerful and encouraging words helped me tremendously.”
Ultimately, Chang says, “I simply believed that it was possible.”
In February 2013, Chang started hosting the first bilingual breastfeeding support group in her community out of her home. She invited her neighbors but as attendees increased, she started looking for a different space.
In a First Food Desert, this feat proved challenging.
“There were a number of places but no one would do it for free,” Chang says.
Exhibiting great persistence yet again, Chang eventually secured space at the Easton Area Community Center, a non-profit organization in the heart of Chang’s town.
“This is a community of interconnected neighborhoods rich with historic architecture, urban energy and great diversity,” she says.
Chang sees an equally diverse group of mothers; most are first time parents.
“…And so everything is very new,” she says. “They face a lot of challenges.”
The challenges Easton mothers face aren’t much different than those mothers face across the nation.
For instance, the U.S. lacks maternal child health laws and policies that protect both mother and baby, Chang explains. With no paid maternity leave policies implemented, mothers are forced to return to work almost immediately after giving birth. Chang strongly encourages mothers to continue their breastfeeding relationship once returning to work by equipping them with information about their rights and providing them with the knowledge and tools to pump milk for their babies while they are apart.
Even amidst the challenges, Chang reports that “all the moms that attended our support group have been very successful at breastfeeding.”
A mother of twins still nurses her babies 11 months later and says she doesn’t plan to stop anytime soon.
A mother of three presented with a plethora of challenges says the support group gave her the courage to continue nursing.
“She realized that being a ‘nursing mom’ comes in many variations,” Chang explains.
A mom of two boys currently nurses her 22-month-old toddler, thanks in part to the support group.
Chang typically sets a topic for the meeting, often invites guest speakers and always welcomes mothers’ questions and concerns. Chang encourages partners and other family members to attend the meetings because she recognizes that breastfeeding success depends on everyone.
Mothers are invited to continue their conversation or ask supplemental questions via email or by connecting on Facebook.
Group attendance fluctuates but averages about seven women each meeting. The effects of the support group are already evident in the community.
“Our community knows that we are ready to support them,” Chang explains. “More women are interested and many are talking about breastfeeding and its benefits.”
Chang admits she would like to see more Hispanic women attending the support groups because she knows that there is a need for culturally relevant support.
Networking with local non-profits, doulas, pediatricians, the Nurse-Family Partnership in Lehigh, WIC offices and the Pennsylvania Department of Health has allowed Chang to spread the word about the support group.
She is currently working to establish her own practice as a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC).
Lehigh Valley Breastfeeding Support Group is held every other Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. For more information, please visit http://easton.patch.com/groups/announcements/p/an–lehigh-valley-breastfeeding-support-group-of-easton.