Mom2Mom Global: Breastfeeding Peer Support for Military Families
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.
This article was republished as a guest post on Galactablog, and is shared here with permission.
By: Amy Barron Smolinski, MA, ALC, CLC, Executive Director of Mom2Mom Global
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. 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. 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.
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 returning to work after only 12 weeks of 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. Mom2Mom Global is a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization dedicated to breastfeeding peer support, education, and advocacy for military families. Started in 1999 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, Mom2Mom Global provides individual and group support to help new mothers meet their own personal breastfeeding goals.
Mom2Mom KMC Big Latch On, 2013, photo courtesy of Laura Karoline Photography
In 1999, Dr. Laura Place, Mrs. Claire Louder and Dr. David Louder developed Mom2Mom in response to 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
Full-term breastfeeding moms
Moms who use a Supplemental Nursing System
Moms or babies with medical conditions or history that impact breastfeeding
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.
Providing support for Active Duty breastfeeding moms has always been a core piece of Mom2Mom's mission. In 2017, we partnered with Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, the leading resource for breastfeeding servicemembers, to offer seamless support, education, and advocacy.
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.
There are now active chapters at over a dozen military installations around the world. New chapters are planned or under formation at more military installations, and we are growing every day! For more information on Mom2Mom, or to start a local chapter in your community, contact us or follow us on Facebook.
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 Barron 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 the mother of four breastfed children.