How can you get the word out that breastfeeding your baby is one of the best things you can do for your child?
You hold a worldwide event called the Big Latch On.
Mothers everywhere meet at locations and breastfeed their infants, simultaneously on a particular day and time.
The event was started by Women's Health Action in New Zealand in 2005 as part of World Breastfeeding Week from Aug. 1-7. It was introduced in the U.S. in 2010 by Joanne Edwards in Portland, Ore. Through the La Leche League USA, the Big Latch On has been gathering more supporters across the country.
This year's event will be on Saturday, Aug. 4, at 10:30 a.m. in the Lehigh Valley, for the first time. The Lehigh Valley Breastfeeding Coalition (LVBC), which serves Lehigh, Northampton and Carbon counties, will be hosting it and is looking for mothers and babies to participate. It will be held at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in the Parent Education Classroom at 1243 S. Cedar Crest Blvd., #303, Allentown.
The purpose of the Big Latch On is to break the record for the most women breastfeeding simultaneously and most importantly, to raise awareness of the health benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and mothers.
There will be one witness for every 10 mothers to record the breastfeeding. Afterward, there will be giveaways and light snacks provided.
Some of the items that will be given away at the Big Latch On are: a Boppy Pillow; double electric breast pump; baby carrier; cloth diapers, nursing cover and more.
"We're really excited about this and hope mothers will want to be a part of it," says Sharon Mendes, RN, IBCLC.
Mendes is a certified lactation consultant and founder of the free breastfeeding support group in Palmerton called the Mama Milk Cafe of Northeast Pennsylvania. They meet once a month, the first Wednesday, from 9-11 a.m. at the First UCC Church, 457 Delaware Ave., Palmerton.
Mendes, one of the co-founders of the Lehigh Valley Breastfeeding Coalition, says they formed the group because they noticed the rates of women who drop off breastfeeding after they leave the hospital.
"We want to raise awareness of the many benefits of breastfeeding, figure out what the barriers are and help support baby-friendly hospital instruction of breastfeeding. Our ultimate goal is to have all mothers breastfeed," says Mendes.
A mother of five who breastfed her own children, ranging from 2 to 19 years old, Mendes is a strong supporter of those benefits.
"There's such a need for these kinds of support groups for breastfeeding moms. I would have loved to have had this kind of support 19 years ago," she says. "We feel compelled to do this, to let them know that there's help out there once they leave the hospital besides books and the Internet. Nothing works better than being able to talk with other moms who have gone through it or going through it the same time they are."
Brittany Kollmer, RN and community health nurse at Bethlehem Bureau of Health, conducts home visits with new mothers and she brings to the coalition a professional view of breastfeeding. Soon to be a first-time mother at the end of September, she plans to breastfeed.
She says that breastfeeding provides the best natural health benefits a mother can give her child. And the emotional and physical bonding that takes place between mother and child is like no other.
The Big Latch On supports communities with identifying and growing opportunities to provide ongoing breastfeeding support and promotion. One of the biggest highlights of the event is the feedback it receives about the amazing diversity of ways in which the Big Latch On is celebrated and the follow up activities such as friendships formed and breastfeeding support groups established.
The LVBC is working with area hospitals, obstetricians and pediatricians to get the word out about the benefits of breastfeeding for babies and mothers.
Mendes says the rates of breastfed babies is low in Pennsylvania and they want to see that number rise. She said that in a July 24 article in Penn News of the University of Pennsylvania, that half of U.S.-born babies are given formula within the first week, and by nine months, only 31 percent of babies are breastfeeding at all. To that end, Pennsylvania Hospital (PAH) was selected to participate in Best Fed Beginnings, a first-of-its-kind national effort to significantly improve breastfeeding rates in states where rates are currently the lowest.
"Together, PAH and Best Fed Beginnings seek to reverse these trends by dramatically increasing the number of U.S. hospitals implementing a proven model for maternity services that better supports a new mother's choice to breastfeed. The National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality (NICHQ) is leading the effort through a cooperative funding agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and working closely with Baby-Friendly USA, Inc.," stated the article. "It recognizes the hospital experience strongly influences a mother's ability to start and continue breastfeeding."
Along with that, it's organizations like the Lehigh Valley Breastfeeding Coalition that ensures that mothers delivering in area hospitals who intend to breastfeed are fully supported.
Julie Reichl of Palmerton, plans on being part of the Big Latch On experience with her 12-month-old son, Shane.
"It was an easy decision for me to breastfeed. It's the best nutrition for my baby. And it creates an incredible bond. From everything I read during my pregnancy, it seemed to be the best gift I could give my baby," she says.
She has been going to the Mama Milk Cafe of Northeast Pennsylvania since Shane was born.
"We went the first time for the support. I got to meet other moms and we shared our concerns, our joys and tips about breastfeeding. It builds a comradery. We're excited about being a part of the Big Latch On," she says.
If you are breastfeeding and would like to participate in the Big Latch On, please call Mendes at (484) 553-0751 or Kollmer at (610) 865-7083. It is important that you arrive by 10 a.m. on Aug. 4 to register and get settled in.
If you would like to learn more about the Lehigh Valley Breastfeeding Coalition or become a member, call either Mendes or Kollmer. If you would like to learn more about Mama Milk Cafe of Northeast Pennsylvania, call Mendes.