Sharing the Truth About Breastfeeding

Mothers learn from each other at Jefferson Hospital’s nursing support group

For Hiroko, breastfeeding her daughter Sayaka is an unpredictable adventure. But she found friends who could guide her through its ups and downs at the Jefferson Hospital Breastfeeding Support Group.

“Julie taught the hospital’s breastfeeding class, so she knows what she’s talking about,” said Hiroko. “It’s nice knowing that every Wednesday I can get answers to my questions.”

Julie Altavilla, RN, IBCLC, is the Certified Lactation Consultant at Jefferson Hospital who guides the support group. She was a NICU nurse for 14 years and always loved helping moms breastfeed their babies.

“The support group moms talk and learn from each other,” said Julie. “We weigh the babies, nurse them, and then weigh again, to tell how much milk is transferring. This helps mothers who need to know that their baby getting enough milk.”

The group meets every Wednesday from 11 to 12:30 p.m. in the Allegheny Health Network Midwives waiting room at the Jefferson Hospital Medical Office Building. It is free, open to everyone, and siblings are welcome. Moms bring their babies, diaper bags, nursing pillows, and lots of questions.

Getting through the night

Hiroko fed Sayaka a lot in her first months, so she developed an oversupply of milk and pumped each night.

“My supply established itself at a high amount and frequency. I had more than she could drink,” she said. “Then I found out about milk banking, and now I help babies who need it.”  

Hiroko has been on both sides of sharing, getting support and guiding others. At 8 months, Sayaka is one of the older babies, so now Hiroko is looking for ideas on how to transition off pumping. “I only wish I’d found out about this support group earlier,” she said.

Watching babies grow

Kathryn found the support group after three months of successfully feeding her son Mitchell.

“It’s nice to see other people’s experiences and challenges,” she said. “You can see babies of other ages, and see how breastfeeding changes as they get older.”

As she prepares to return to work, Kathryn has been pumping her milk. “I brought my pump to the group and showed them how I was doing it. I got very helpful tips from the other moms,” she said.

Kathryn’s goal was to keep Mitchell on breast milk until he was six months old, but that may change as she faces a variable work and travel schedule.

“Pumping is a lot of work,” she said. “It’s also important to be there for my family, so I need to feel comfortable supplementing with formula. That’s something I feel free to discuss in the group.”

Second time around

Alicia’s daughter Charlotte is six months old. When they come to support group, she has a quick drink and then wants to play with the other babies. Alicia also has a 13-year-old daughter, Mariyah, and a photography business, Moments Created Photography

Alicia knows that experienced moms can also use support.

“I had a phenomenal experience with my older daughter, so I was very confident that all would go great,” she said. “But with Charlotte, I could barely make enough milk. I felt so defeated. So it was so nice to meet other moms who had problems making enough. I didn’t feel isolated anymore.”

“My advice is to stop comparing yourself to other moms because we are all different,” she said. “Having a problem doesn’t make you a failure. If you are giving your best, that is all you can do.” 

From novice to veteran

Jennifer’s son Cooper is just two months old, but when he switched from long nursing sessions to shorter ones, she turned to the moms in the support group.

“It’s so comfortable to sit and talk and hear what the others have experienced,” she said.  “I’ve been going every Wednesday and I absolutely love it. “I got help with pumping and positioning, and I can watch the other babies and see what’s coming up next for Cooper.”

Jennifer will miss the group when she goes back to work, but will stay in touch via a Facebook group. “Already I feel like a veteran. Now I can answer questions, where before I had no idea,” she said.

Taking the journey together

Each nursing mother has her own issues — facing latching difficulties, searching for a place to pump at work, or managing at home with older siblings.

“It’s helpful for first-time moms to get the support after they leave the hospital,” Julie said. “I answer questions, but I’ve learned from all of them as well. They talk about new products and make practical suggestions,” she said. “The group helps them gain confidence to breastfeed in public, if they want to.”

“Recently a new mom came with a 7-day old baby,” Julie said. “Her own mother brought her. The new mom was sleep deprived, emotional, and so happy that she came.

“The biggest thing is to have a place to go on Wednesday, and know that you’ll be able to talk to another mom,” Julie said.

Bringing care into the community

Jefferson was the first hospital in western Pennsylvania to achieve the Pennsylvania Department of Health Keystone 10 designation, indicating that the staff uses evidence-based practices to give breastfeeding families the highest level of support.

Jefferson Hospital lactation consultants are available to any mother delivering in the hospital. AHN Midwives’ Stephanie Ehland is also a lactation consultant. The support group extends this education into the community, as any woman is welcome to join.