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.

Health coaching organization focuses on breastfeeding

52368633_scaled_173x216Have you ever met someone for the first time but felt like you’ve known that person all your life? A while back, I had the pleasure of speaking with founder and executive director of Femtique Associates Incorporated Judith Beaulieu, RN, BSN, MIS, CHC, RYI and I instantly fell in love. Her bubbly manner is so inviting; I could have chatted with her for hours like with an old friend.

Beaulieu’s organization provides health coaching for women with a special focus on breastfeeding support. It secured its articles of incorporation in July 2011.

I am astonished by Beaulieu’s capacity to understand and appreciate the needs of mothers and babies; she doesn’t have any children of her own.

Funding

Beaulieu says her ideas for Femtique are never-ending so she keeps a journal nearby for jotting down her 3 a.m. visions.

“How can we increase breastfeeding rates through awareness?” Beaulieu asks herself. “Well, I got this idea that we could commission an artist that would put a picture to what breastfeeding looks like. In today’s society you don’t really see it.”

'Hearts Full Of Hope' by Katie Berggren
‘Hearts Full Of Hope’ by Katie Berggren

Beaulieu became acquainted with motherhood artist Katie Berggren after browsing her images online and later through a project with the Pennsylvania Breastfeeding Coalition. Beaulieu serves on its grant committee.

“She took to the idea like a duck takes to water,” Beaulieu says of Berggren. Soon after Berggren created Hearts Full Of Hope.

Berggren says it was hard not to feel motivated about “the opportunity to create a piece that would speak of Femtique’s urge to educate mothers and the community as to the value of breastfeeding at least through the child’s first 6 months”. She says the image for Hearts Full Of Hope materialized almost immediately.

Beaulieu plans to dedicate the commissioned, promotional, original painting to Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin for her dedication to breastfeeding. The painting will also be sold as prints and charms to raise money to fund Pennsylvania nurses’ Certified Lactation Counselor training.

“My hope is that Hearts Full Of Hope can help to serve as a visual vehicle for Judith on her journey,” Berggren says. “An image that can help to get a message across when there isn’t time or space for words.”

Femtique also offers quilted art, Baby Fats’ Quarter Quilts, as another form of fundraising.

In the late 18th century, quilting was a creative conduit for the stifled voices of women. Quilts served to tell and exhibit the stories of their makers.

To Beaulieu, the quilt perfectly parallels the important bond created between mother and infant during skin-to-skin contact.

“We need to put those hugs and skin to skin positions back into our lives instead of putting babies in strollers and handing them bottles,” Beaulieu says. “We need our babies to be with us.”

Goals to satisfy

Eventually, Beaulieu would like all Femtique associates certified as lactation counselors. She explains that health coaches with nursing backgrounds and professional lactation certifications allow for a holistic experience for the client.

She uses the example of a mother who undergoes cesarean section also needing breastfeeding support and explains that she will benefit from a caretaker with multifaceted training.

Through Berggren’s artwork and other fundraising endeavors, Beaulieu plans to sponsor as many nurses’ CLC trainings as funds offer.

“Nurses just don’t have the money to pay for the credentialing,” she says. “When they are ready to leave the clinical setting and go to community work, the job change just doesn’t afford them the extra credentials.”

Beaulieu explains that Femtique’s clients seek help for a variety of reasons, but she says continued breastfeeding support is of popular concern.

She emphasizes the importance of creating safe, public areas for women to breastfeed their babies.

Beaulieu recalls an outing to a Barnes and Noble cafe with a colleague a couple of years ago. A group of mothers engaged in a book discussion while nursing their children. Her uncomfortable co-worker suggested they sit elsewhere so not to disturb the nursing mothers.

Looking back on the situation, Beaulieu called Barnes and Noble to ask what kind of protection they provide for nursing moms. The store manager cited discreet nooks and crannies between shelves where mothers are welcome to nurse their children.

“It’s one small little goal just for that one big need,” Beaulieu says of creating public areas for breastfeeding dyads.

Beaulieu Yoga and Health Coach Studio
Beaulieu Yoga and Health Coach Studio

Of Beaulieu’s other goals is the creation of a yoga camp for teenage girls. She hopes it will allow them to bring awareness to their bodies. She says teens need some kind of outlet so unwanted pregnancies can be reduced.

“It’s so obvious that yoga is the craze,” Beaulieu says. “But no studio is like Beaulieu Yoga and Health Coach Studio because it is run and overseen by a nurse.”

And instead of her instructors simply looking to make a living, Beaulieu says Femtique associates are looking to make a difference in the world.

Femtique backs the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI). Supporting the initiative is a great way to “put those hugs back into our lives” as Beaulieu suggests.

A change in health services

Beaulieu feels a change in the health care paradigm.

“I would like to align our services with the reform bill so that we will be in the forefront of healthcare,” she says. “We will be able to get people to stay healthy.”

Technology and prescription drugs, rise in chronic diseases and administrative costs drove United States’ health care spending close to $2.6 trillion in 2010. [Retrieved from http://www.kaiseredu.org/issue-modules/us-health-care-costs/background-brief.aspx]

“The writing is on the wall,” Beaulieu says. “”There is not going to be money for hospital care. Everyone knows something has to be done differently.”

She suggests a preventative approach and what better way than to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.

“We’ve got to make noise and I think this is the way to do it,” Beaulieu says. “We need the world to be more friendly to our children so they can grow up healthy.”