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A Breastfeeding Café: Could It Work for You?

Alison Parkes
Co-Director of the LLLI Leader Accreditation Department
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 5, October-November 2005, pp. 112-113.

Mothers getting together regularly in a safe and welcoming environment to breastfeed their babies and share their experiences of breastfeeding and mothering. There's nothing much new in that, is there? For most of the LLL world, this is the basis of the mother-to-mother support we offer through monthly Series Meetings.

Some Groups thrive on Series Meetings, which is great. However, in some parts of the LLL world, some Leaders are questioning whether Series Meetings are the best way to meet the needs of local breastfeeding mothers. This can happen when the number of mothers attending meetings starts to dwindle and Leaders begin to feel burned-out or as though they are not needed. Some Leaders would like to enable more spontaneous responses to any concerns mothers bring, rather than feel tied to Series Meeting topics. Other Groups find that Series Meetings in their communities seem to attract mothers from a limited range of backgrounds; they want to try to reach mothers from more diverse backgrounds.

One new approach is a "drop-in" style of get-together. It can happen more often than monthly Series Meetings. It can take place in a community hall or a café, or anywhere else that seems suitable. In Hong Kong, mothers are meeting in tea houses; in the United States, they are meeting in corners of well-known coffee bars. In some areas, the term "breastfeeding café" has been coined; in London, England there is a "Best Milk Bar."

In Blackpool, in the north of England, Leaders Helen Hannibal and Sue Latham no longer lead Series Meetings in the conventional way. They hold weekly drop-in sessions and are convinced that they are meeting the needs of local mothers in this way. Mothers with young babies are often desperate for contact with other mothers. The weekly drop- in enables them to meet and talk with one another, build friendships, and share breastfeeding and mothering worries. Helen also feels that the drop-in, held at a central town venue, is less intimidating and more inclusive than the concept of "meetings" held monthly in each other's homes. And incidentally, the basic "refreshment" provided is toast!

So, how does a breastfeeding café differ from Series Meetings?

  • More frequent get-togethers, weekly or every two weeks;
  • Style of meeting is "drop-in" rather than group discussion;
  • The word "meeting" is avoided as this may sound too formal to some mothers.

What similarities are there?

  • At least one Leader is present;
  • A place where women can get breastfeeding information and support;
  • Healthy refreshments can be an important feature, as part of the welcome provided;
  • Memberships are collected and Group dues may be paid, depending on Divisional or Affiliate Policies.

In Great Britain (GB), two British lactation consultants/ health care providers, Catherine Pardoe and Julie Williams, have initiated a scheme called "Baby Café," which is now registered in GB as a trademark and logo. Catherine is also an active LLL Leader, mother of four children, and at one time Professional Liaison Director for La Leche League of Great Britain (LLLGB). Baby Cafés that register with this scheme are entitled to use the name and logo and must abide by a specified model of care and standards. Each Baby Café has to secure funding, which will cover the cost of two qualified, paid employees for weekly drop-in sessions, plus the cost of the venue, refreshments, and promotional material. At these sessions, mothers can bring their babies, discuss breastfeeding queries, and meet in a friendly environment. Funding in GB for this kind of project is at an all-time high, thanks to strong support from the Department of Health SureStart programs. However, SureStart works in targeted areas and funding has to be reapplied for each year.

In Northampton, Leaders Ann Davison and Carolyn Markham have set up a registered Baby Café. Ann reports that in the first 15 weeks, there were 109 visits from pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, many of whom came back for a second visit. Their publicity poster has been translated into Albanian and Somali, to target local ethnic minority groups. Ann and Carolyn continue to lead monthly Series Meetings, too, and there has been an increase in the number of mothers attending as a direct result of the success of the Baby Café.

My local Group in Colchester, Great Britain is keen to try an informal "breastfeeding café" approach, but is anxious not to lose the sharing of LLL philosophy that is special about Series Meetings. My co-Leader, Angela Eldridge, with the support of a strong core of Group members, is planning to hold sessions every two weeks, which will have a drop-in format and a planned topic so that there can be discussion and sharing around the topic as well as more spontaneous responses to any questions which mothers may raise. The aim is to reach mothers from more diverse backgrounds, for whom this style of get-together may be more appealing. There are funding implications for the venue, refreshments, and especially for the new "Welcome to LLL Colchester" leaflets that are planned. One of our Group's members is helping us write the necessary grant applications.

The time seems right to consider how we might reach more mothers from a broader range of backgrounds in ways that seem appropriate to our local communities. Breastfeeding cafés may provide an opportunity for revitalized Groups, reenergized Leaders, and a more diverse pool of mothers who may want to reach out to help other breastfeeding mothers. Now that offers fantastic potential for LLL! Think about it. Maybe a "breastfeeding café" can work for your Group.

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