By: Amy Smolinski, MA, ALC, CLC, Executive Director of Mom2Mom Global
February 2, 2016
Research has shown time and again that peer support is one of the most effective ways to help breastfeeding mothers meet their goals. We know that breastfeeding is a “right-brained” activity, that must be observed to be learned, and that, historically through much of human history, women learned how to breastfeed by being around breastfeeding mothers, typically in their own communities from mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and friends.
Current American culture is at a crossroads. After several decades of bottle and formula feeding prevalence, breastfeeding is only just now beginning the return to being an accepted, normal feeding practice for babies and young children. And it’s hard, we have growing pains. Moms all over the US feel lost and confused and are often unsure of what to do when breastfeeding their children.
For military families, it’s even harder. Not only do we struggle with whatever our internalized cultural beliefs are about breastfeeding, but we also don’t have our close female friends and family nearby to help with a new baby. Many families have a Permanent Change of Station (PCS)–or the civilian word, move–during a pregnancy, leaving a mama with a new baby in a new place, without a support system of friends nearby. Often, due to deployments, temporary duty assignments, trainings, or the needs of the military, we don’t even have our partners with us. I have a half-baked conspiracy theory that the reason Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs) want your due date is so they can immediately cut orders to either deploy or PCS within a month of having a new baby!
For Active Duty mamas, the challenges can be even harder. They have the difficult task of working to establish a breastfeeding relationship and build up a pumping routine, with the added pressure of, depending on the service branch, as little as 6 weeks of “convalescent leave” (only the Navy and Marine Corps offer maternity leave) and the need to return to physical fitness standards and cope with the demands of a military career—all while breastfeeding.
Within this context, Mom2Mom Global offers support, friendship, and networking. Started in 1999 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Mom2Mom Global is a military breastfeeding peer support organization that provides individual and group support to help new mothers meet their own personal breastfeeding goals. In 1999, one of the pediatricians at LRMC, Dr. Laura Place, chatted during an office visit with the mother of one of her patients, Mrs. Claire Louder. Mrs. Louder was a breastfeeding mother, and her husband, Dr. David Louder, was the head of maternal-infant medicine at LRMC. Dr. Place shared that she was seeing a concerning trend. Many moms in the community who wanted to breastfeed were starting off well in the hospital, but by the time they came for the baby’s first well-baby check (at the time, 2 weeks postpartum), breastfeeding was not going well. Moms lacked adequate resources and support for even basic questions about normal newborn behavior, so by the two-week mark, many had simply given up on breastfeeding altogether. Dr. and Mrs. Louder had worked with the WIC Peer Counseling program in Texas, so they were familiar with the impact peer support can make on breastfeeding outcomes. Together with Dr. Place and Mary Reidy, a registered nurse in the Mother-Baby Unit, they developed Mom2Mom’s hallmark program, Peer Mentors.
A Mom2Mom Peer Mentor is a mother who has breastfed for a minimum of 6 months and considers it to be a positive experience. These mothers take a one-day free training, where they learn the basics of lactation and the counseling skills to help pregnant and breastfeeding mothers define and meet their own individual goals. Mom2Mom strives to provide Mentors who have successfully breastfed through a wide variety of different situations, to offer the benefit of peer support from the perspective of someone who’s “been there, done that.”
Some examples of our Mentors:
- Active Duty moms
- Civilian working moms
- Exclusively Pumping moms
- NICU moms
- Twin/Multiple moms
- Tandem-nursing moms
- Full-term breastfeeding moms
- Moms who use a Supplemental Nursing System
- Moms or babies with medical conditions or history that impact breastfeeding
Mentors provide phone, email, or online chat support to their mentees at the end of pregnancy and during the first few months after the baby is born. A Mentor offers support, empathy, a listening ear, and a sounding board to help a new mother figure out strategies that will work for her baby and her family. Mentors are trained to recognize symptoms that may indicate the need for professional lactation advice, and to refer moms and babies to local resources to get help when necessary.
Mom2Mom also offers group support, facilitated by trained lactation professionals, in both an online Facebook group and in-person through regularly scheduled meet-ups. Each chapter holds weekly meet-ups that are open to anyone who supports breastfeeding. Moms can come with their babies and older children to meet other families in the community and discuss any breastfeeding concerns that they have. The structure varies from chapter to chapter, but is very informal and welcoming. Trained lactation professionals are on hand to provide individual assistance for mothers and babies struggling with specific concerns, and the meet-ups offer a great place for mothers to practice nursing in public in a safe environment. Friendships are born here, among both the mothers and the children. Our closed, confidential online forums function as a 24/7 support group, as there is always someone up nursing a baby and posting to the group.
We have a specific component, Mom2Mom Double Duty, for Active Duty and civilian working moms. Double Duty holds meet-ups at times that fit into a working mom’s schedule. Double Duty typically also has its own closed Facebook group where concerns are discussed specific to workplace and Active Duty breastfeeding families. A working or Active Duty mom will be assigned a Peer Mentor who has successfully breastfed while working full time.
What makes Mom2Mom work? Our mission to support and celebrate each mother’s individual breastfeeding journey. Our moms help each other through the rough spots, provide encouragement, and celebrate every drop of milk as a gift. They offer practical suggestions for obstacles, and cheer each other on, and respect that every mom and every baby is on a different path. Our groups are “no-drama” zones, where differences of opinion are welcomed, but everyone’s unique experience is respected.
We also are committed to providing up-to-date, accurate, evidence-based lactation information, so mothers can make informed decisions about infant feeding. The leaders of each chapter are required to take additional lactation-specific training beyond the Mentor training and hold an accredited lactation credential. We work with each chapter to help leaders attain this through scholarships and MyCAA. We see a new level of mentorship arise as experienced lactation professionals work alongside newly-minted lactation specialists in military communities, sharing knowledge and helping mothers and babies.
Over time, as mothers support each other, and new mothers come in and get support from the more seasoned moms, we are seeing a culture change at installations with Mom2Mom chapters. When mothers feel supported in their communities, breastfeeding becomes a normal, accepted, unremarkable part of life.
Our longest-running flagship chapter, Mom2MomKMC, still operates in the Kaiserslautern Military Community in Germany. In addition, there are active chapters at Fairchild AFB in WA, Holloman AFB in NM, Ft. Bragg in NC, San Diego, CA, SHAPE in Belgium, and USAG-Bavaria, Germany. New chapters are planned or under formation at more military installations around the world. We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.
In addition, part of Mom2Mom Global’s mission is to ensure that mothers can easily find support at any military installation. To that end, we have a database of all breastfeeding support groups, military-wide. We actively support other Peer Support programs, such as WIC Peer Counselors, Breastfeeding USA, La Leche League, and more. If you are looking for a peer support group, or if you are part of a mother-to-mother support group (on or off base) that serves a military community, please let us know!
Amy Smolinski, MA, ALC, CLC is the Executive Director of Mom2Mom Global, an international breastfeeding peer support organization that seeks to address the unique needs of breastfeeding families in the U.S. military. She is an Army wife, and a breastfeeding mother.
This article was originally published as a guest post on Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, a blog and website dedicated to supporting Active Duty breastfeeding mothers, and is shared here with permission. You can view original article here.
Editor’s note: February 5, 2016 – Since the publication of this article, the military’s maternity leave has increased to 12 weeks fully paid maternity leave. You can read more about the policy change here.