Support group targets military specific challenges

2012 CLC Course at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany.  Course hosted by Mom2Mom of KMC, taught by Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding.  Photos courtesy of Public Affairs, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

2012 CLC Course at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany. Course hosted by Mom2Mom of KMC, taught by Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. Photos courtesy of Public Affairs, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Lactation didn’t become interesting to me until I became pregnant with my now 18 month old daughter. My mom exclusively breastfed both my brother and I, otherwise I had never had exposure to milk-producing breasts in my adult life. I may have witnessed nursing moms and babes in my adventures, but I’d never taken the time to stop and notice. Now lactation is all I can think about and I’m not afraid to admit it. Human milk is fascinating. Women are incredible and babies are little bundles of brilliance.

A while back, I was in touch with Amy Smolinski, CLC and Community Outreach Director of
Mom2Mom of Kaiserslautern Military Community (M2M of KMC) in Germany,  a network of breastfeeding families that helps new mothers overcome the difficulties of living far from family support to reach their personal breastfeeding goals. [Retrieved from: http://www.facebook.com/M2MofKMC/info] She, in conjunction with M2M of KMC’s four other board members, shed light upon the unique challenges military families face when it comes to breastfeeding their children.

I was so excited to learn about such a unique community and the breastfeeding services M2M provides.

Mentor influence

M2M is mainly comprised of peer mentors all of whom volunteer their time. Smolinski calls them the backbone of the organization.

M2M mentors must have breastfed for at least six months and have considered it a positive experience. Mentors must also complete a six hour, free training course offered through the organization.

“Mothers learn best from other mothers who have been through similar circumstances, or are going through them together,” Smolinski says. “Mom2Mom is about building a community network of support for breastfeeding families, and the most effective way to do that is to build one-on-one relationships.”

2012 Big Latch On/World Breastfeeding Week Celebration, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  Photos courtesy of Emily Karissa Photography

2012 Big Latch On/World Breastfeeding Week Celebration, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Photos courtesy of Emily Karissa Photography

M2M mentors have breastfed preemies, twins, or tandem. Some have induced lactation for adopted children. Others breastfed while working at civilian jobs or on Active Duty.  Smolinski says the organization tries to ensure that its mentors can support each mom in her individual circumstance.

“We don’t tell mothers how to succeed in breastfeeding, we ask how they define breastfeeding success–and from there we offer support to help each mother succeed according to her own goals,” she explains.

Smolinski also says it’s typical for members to start as mentees when they are pregnant and eventually become mentors.  Many former members have gone on to start Mom2Mom organizations at other military installations.

CLC involvement

2012 CLC Course at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany.  Course hosted by Mom2Mom of KMC, taught by Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding.  Photos courtesy of Public Affairs, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

2012 CLC Course at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany. Course hosted by Mom2Mom of KMC, taught by Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. Photos courtesy of Public Affairs, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

M2M of KMC hosted Healthy Children Project’s Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) Training twice in recent years.

In fact, the organization includes a rolling subcommittee dedicated to bringing the CLC Training to their area about every 18 months.

Mom2Mom of KMC requires board members to be lactation counselor certified.

“We need to be able to provide adequate support not only for breastfeeding mothers with questions, but also for mentors who may encounter breastfeeding issues outside of the scope of a peer volunteer,” Smolinski says.

She says M2M includes a pledge to provide financial support to help any future new board members take the CLC training.

For mentors looking to become CLCs, the course is an approved licensure under the MyCAA program for military spouse tuition assistance.  Smolinski says the application process is rather lengthy, but eligible military spouses interested in using MyCAA to fund their CLC training should contact the appropriate continuing education office at their nearest military installation.

M2M is currently in the process of planning to host another CLC training in early 2014.

Community involvement

2012 Big Latch On, Photo courtesy of the Stars and Stripes

2012 Big Latch On, Photo courtesy of the Stars and Stripes

In addition to peer mentoring, M2M of KMC also offers a weekly Breastfeeding Cafe, an informal setting where moms and tots get together and socialize. Moms share their experiences over a loosely-guided discussion topic, Smolinski explains.

M2M offers a quarterly newsletter, community outreach events and open houses to reach new-to-the-area pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

“We are working to expand partnerships with other community and health organizations that work with breastfeeding families in our area,” Smolinski says.

Each August, M2M holds an event in conjunction with World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month.

The organization recently began participating in the Big Latch On.

M2M’s current projects include revamping and expanding Active Duty programs and pursuing Baby-Friendly Designation at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC), the only U.S. military medical center in all of Europe and Africa.

Pursuing Baby-Friendly Designation

2012 Big Latch On/World Breastfeeding Week Celebration, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  Photos courtesy of Emily Karissa Photography

2012 Big Latch On/World Breastfeeding Week Celebration, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Photos courtesy of Emily Karissa Photography

KMC, which includes Ramstein Air Base, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and several other smaller military installations, is home to the largest population of Americans outside of the U.S.

LRMC has a Level 3 NICU so high-risk pregnant mothers from other areas are frequently brought to LRMC until they deliver safely and mother and baby can travel home.  KMC’s  local population averages between 75 and 100 births per month.

With such a large population served, obtaining Baby Friendly Designation at LRMC would positively impact large numbers of families.

“Our goal in seeking Baby-Friendly Designation is to ensure that all hospital staff who work with breastfeeding mothers and children are adequately equipped with accurate information to support them,” Smolinski says.

Military hospital staff face unique challenges which directly impacts mothers’ breastfeeding success.

“Between moves, deployments, and clinical rotations, continuity of policies and training is very difficult to maintain,” Smolinski explains.  “Also, each provider, nurse, and technician comes to a military treatment facility with different training and ideas about breastfeeding.”

LRMC’s eventual Baby-Friendly Hospital Designation will provide a streamline, effective and beneficial system for staff members and families.

Unique challenges

2012 Big Latch On/World Breastfeeding Week Celebration, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  Photos courtesy of Emily Karissa Photography

2012 Big Latch On/World Breastfeeding Week Celebration, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Photos courtesy of Emily Karissa Photography

Military families face several unique challenges to breastfeeding.
“We all live far from family support,” Smolinski explains.  “We don’t have our mothers, aunts, sisters, or best friends down the street or across town to help out when a new baby arrives.”

She adds that because of frequent deployments, trainings, and other military career duties, mothers often times don’t even have their partners around when their babies are born.

Military families move frequently, so it’s not unusual for a woman to arrive in an unfamiliar place either pregnant or with a newborn.

“Military spouses learn quickly to seek out support from each other, and we are all willing to lend support to a newcomer,” Smolinski says.  “This is especially important for breastfeeding mothers, who are making these huge adjustments with young children.”

M2M has a large population of Active Duty servicewomen who require special support while breastfeeding. Smolinski says the organization strives to ensure that all breastfeeding Active Duty mothers have access to the support of an Active Duty peer mentor. M2M also aims to foster a community that understands breastfeeding Active Duty mothers’ exceptional challenges.

M2M’s correspondence with Robyn Roche-Paull, author and founder of Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, offers a special resource for Active Duty moms.

It’s overwhelmingly inspiring to hear the different stories, challenges and triumphs that breastfeeding mothers experience. It is vital that lactation professionals consider and understand the many contexts nursing mothers encounter so to better assist them in achieving their healthy children goals.

For more information about Mom2Mom of KMC, like them on Facebook.

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