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MelroseWakefield’s Baby Café: Supporting Nursing Mothers for Nearly 2 Decades

May 13, 2024

MelroseWakefield’s Baby Café serves as a model for nursing mother support programs around the country.

Hospital week webstory

Nearly 20 years ago, MelroseWakefield Hospital sponsored a new program to support breastfeeding mothers. The Baby Café was the first of its kind in the United States. Today, the evidence-based model, which combines peer breastfeeding support with professional, clinical International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLC) care, has expanded to over 32 states. MelroseWakefield Hospital was re-designated as a Baby Friendly facility in February 2024.

Baby Café USA is celebrated for increasing breastfeeding initiation and continuation rates – and decreasing disparities – among breastfeeding mothers in the United States. The nonprofit organization coordinates a network of community support groups to reduce health disparities nationwide and help mothers realize their breastfeeding goals. In 2024, Baby Cafe USA was a finalist in the "Reducing Disparities in Breastfeeding Innovation Challenge,” awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

“It has been shown to be one of the best public health initiatives because it can support the health of the community as a whole,” said Director of Community Services Eileen Dern, RN. We want to be sure that every patient has the same opportunity to have a healthy baby and to be a healthy parent. MelroseWakefield has been very forward-thinking, doing this work for years.”

Baby Café is a free drop-in support group, open to anyone from pre-conception, through pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding/ combo feeding/ exclusively pumping, and weaning. Twice per week in Perkins Auditorium, MelroseWakefield Hospital hosts two-hour groups with an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) providing accessible lactation care and support for families. Chairs are arranged in a circle, and moms have the opportunity to share their experiences with other moms.

Babies can be weighed pre- and post-feeding using a scale to calculate the amount of breastmilk transferred during their feeding. The space is set up to allow for different styles of nursing, including with or without pillows and different seating options. Moms can opt for hands-on guidance from an IBCLC. Handouts and other educational resources are also provided. During a snack break, blankets are arranged on the floor to allow for tummy time and for babies to interact.

Monday sessions are reserved for mothers and babies, but other support people are welcome to attend the Wednesday meetings. An additional group meets virtually on Friday afternoons during a meeting sponsored by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The online meeting is also the first of its kind funded by WIC in the country. You don’t need to give birth or receive care at Tufts Medicine to attend sessions.

“One of our intentions in hosting Baby Café is to build a supportive community for moms," said Marianna Gilroy, RN, BSN, IBCLC, Lactation Program Manager at Tufts Medicine. “As the facilitator of the groups, my goal is to encourage a fostering and supportive environment where mothers can share their experiences, learn from one another, and provide encouragement.”

Marianna shares that mothers often encounter challenges related to infant feeding. Common challenges include latch issues, low milk supply, sleepy babies and babies that snack and often cluster feed, concerns about their infant’s weight gain, plugged ducts, supplementation questions, pumping questions and returning to work anxieties. The International Journal of Breastfeeding shares that “mothers perceived that peer support had a positive impact on breastfeeding.”

“Moms have reported they first came to Baby Café to see what it is all about. Most have shared that after attending cafe they no longer feel alone or isolated during the ebbs and flow of their feeding journey,” said Marianna. “Mothers who continue returning to café for support have shared the expertise and guidance they received has helped to overcome challenges and has positively impacted their personal feeding goals. In addition, having support has helped with the anxieties of the unknown and allowed moms to embrace ‘the pivots’ and acclimate to any adjustments needed from their initial feeding goal.”

Twenty new Baby Café’s opened in 2023, including 8 established in the WIC or public health offices in states with low breastfeeding rates. About 40% of Baby Café participants who identified as Black, Hispanic, Multiracial or Indigenous who set out to breastfeed for 12 months achieved their goal in 2022.

Learn about the Baby Café at MelroseWakefield

Press Releases
Eileen Dern Recognized as a 2019 ABCD Community Hero
Eileen Dern, director of community services at MelroseWakefield Healthcare, was named a 2019 ABCD Community Heroes by Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), an anti-poverty, community development and human services organization.
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