Health Matters: Breastfeeding advocates support and encourage local families

BIG RAPIDS — Breastfeeding has been long touted as the most natural way to feed an infant, yet it does not always come as instinctively as most new mothers hope. In fact, for many new parents, breastfeeding is not easy. It comes with a myriad of physical, emotional and even social difficulties.

After seeing the need for more local support to new moms, community partners have recently formed the Mecosta-Osceola Breastfeeding Coalition.

Parents are encouraged to attend monthly support group meetings in Big Rapids, Reed City and Mecosta to connect with other young families and discuss their breastfeeding goals. The group is a welcoming space to confide in others about hurdles, learn tips and expand a mother’s support. Meeting topics include baby positioning during feeding, nutritional needs for babies, signs of dehydration, feeding cues and open topics brought up by attendees.

Great Start Collaborative Coordinator Jessica Wimmer helps lead the group, but she said parents really make the program work through personal connection and grassroots efforts.

“A lot of our agencies have been wanting to do this, but it’s so much easier when you have parents paving the way,” Wimmer said.

Goals of the group are to:

• Raise awareness, educate and support employers to ensure a safe, designated place to breastfeed/pump for working moms.

• Raise awareness, educate and support mothers returning to the workplace.

• Ensure parents and childcare providers adhere to safe handling of breastmilk.

• Educate organizations to ensure breastfeeding moms are comfortable breastfeeding modestly in public places.

• Increase community awareness about the importance of breastfeeding.

Born out of conversations from the Great Start Mecosta-Osceola Parent Coalition, the breastfeeding coalition started about a year ago and is supported by area organizations and businesses committed to helping mothers and parents in numerous ways.

“We’re sharing information about breast pumps, any obstacles parents may be enduring, awareness, education and support – not only around breastfeeding, but anything when it comes to parenting,” Wimmer said.

Parents can also get connected to a local expert or agency to help with childcare information, home visiting programs and car seat clinics.

“There is so much more than just breastfeeding,” she said. “It’s a whole support system based on parents’ needs.”

When parents attend a support group meeting, they also receive a library card at the host library, regardless of where they live, enabling them to check out resources and introduce their child to reading early, which is critical to an infant’s developing brain, Wimmer said.

Lisa Modene, Spectrum Health Big Rapids Hospital Birthing Center manager, said the breastfeeding coalition is filling an important need in the community.

“We’re really excited about the work we’re doing and the potential to do more and grow the program,” Modene said. “We want the best for our kids. Imagine an army of moms and dads with the same goal to give our children the best, before they even step foot into pre-school. The breastfeeding coalition is more than just breastfeeding. It’s about bonding with your baby; it’s friendship with other parents and feeling supported by the community you live in. It’s about giving confidence to young families to make informed decisions to set up their child for success, long after nursing.”

A goal is to provide evidence-based information to make the community more breastfeeding friendly, Modene said.

Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals, Munson Hospital Cadillac, Central Michigan District Health Department, District Health Department No. 10 and Mid-Michigan Community Action Agency are leading coalition organizations.

Wimmer said the group is in a promotional phase, trying to get the word out to as many parents as possible.

“We know the need is there,” she said.

Monthly support group meetings are at Big Rapids Public Library the first Monday of the month from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Reed City Public Library the third Wednesday from 10-11 a.m. and at Morton Township Public Library in Mecosta the second Thursday from 10-11 a.m.

For more information, call Wimmer at 231-592-9605.