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Hospital Happenings

News | April 18, 2023

BJACH Big Latch On brings community together to support breastfeeding

By Jean Graves, Medical Readiness Command, West

Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital hosted the Global Big Latch On, April 16 to promote and provide breastfeeding support to Soldiers and Families at the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Nearly 50 people attended the inaugural event at the hospital with 24 mothers and their babies latching on to breastfeed and offer peer support to each other.

Allison Harrison, American Red Cross volunteer at BJACH, helped organize the event. She holds the military lactation counselor credentials, is a certified lactation counselor, and is the Mom2Mom Global ambassador for Fort Polk.

She has been working hard to raise awareness, provide support and education to Fort Polk mothers since her arrival in 2019.

“When I first arrived at Fort Polk there were very few quality resources available to breastfeeding moms. In the last year, we’ve really pushed to change that,” she said. “This event was a wonderful way to show the community that BJACH supports nursing moms and will continue to look for ways to improve services to their patients.”

Harrison said the Big Latch On is a global initiative to normalize breastfeeding and let parents know their choice to breastfeed is supported.

According to biglatchon.org, these events take place at registered locations around the world during a three-day window every April. Breastfeeding moms, their friends, family, and community join this celebration to promote and support breastfeeding.

Volunteer events like the one hosted at BJACH, create a lasting support network for the community.

As of the publication of this story, more than 1600 mothers participated in Big Latch On events across the globe, April 14-16, with results still being reported.

Harrison said Mom2Mom Global is a nonprofit that works to support both active duty and military spouses who are breastfeeding.

“We provide peer support, as well as working with leaders to ensure policies are in place to protect breastfeeding parents,” she said.

According to their website (mom2momglobal.org), Mom2Mom Global started in 1999 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and provides individual and group support to help new families meet their breastfeeding goals. Mom2Mom Global is also home to the military lactation counselor professional credential (MiLC) and they offer evidence-based support, friendship, advocacy, and networking to breastfeeding parents.

Harrison said she is a motivated and passionate advocate for nursing moms.

“I know how it feels to try to breastfeed when your extended family doesn’t support your decision,” she said. “I know how it feels to receive antiquated or incorrect medical advice regarding breastfeeding my children. I know how isolating it can feel when you feel like you don’t have anyone that you can talk to about the unique challenges you are facing. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. I want to be available to listen, to support them, and to help them find more support or medical help if need be.”

Harrison said statistics show that women are more likely to meet their breastfeeding goals when they feel supported.

The event included community resources, information tables and door prizes.

Capt. Kodi Humpal, pediatrician, and Maj. Lesli Thomas, family practice physician and chief of the BJACH Patient Centered Medical Home were in attendance to share medical expertise, show support and answer questions.

“We are here today as medical professionals to support our breastfeeding moms,” he said. “There are many significant health benefits associated with breastfeeding.”

Humpal said this applies to both mother and child.

“For babies studies show that breastfeeding up to six months can decrease risk of respiratory infections, diarrhea, asthma and a whole host of other issues,” he said. “For moms it has been proven to decrease their risk of hypertension, type two diabetes, and a variety of cancers. Currently, the recommendation is to solely breastfeed for six months with the goal to breastfeed children for up to two years with supplemental complimentary foods.”

Humpal said he was happy to support the event.

“We wanted to be here today to show our support for breastfeeding moms, because it is not easy,” he said.

Spc. Sydney Pierce, practical nursing specialist at BJACH, was there to represent the labor, delivery and post partem ward and participate in the Big Latch On.

Pierce was enthusiastic to be there in both capacities.

“Several nurses from LDRP, including myself, are getting certified as lactation counselors,” she said. “We are all very interested in being a support system for breastfeeding mothers.”

Pierce said being in the Army forces people to find support outside of their extended families.

“Serving in the Army we are away from home and family which can make you feel isolated,” she said. “Breastfeeding is a journey; it can last several months or years. We are here to support moms for the long term.”

Pierce and her six-month-old daughter Esmeralda are currently breastfeeding.

“For me this event was important not only from a professional standpoint but also it’s personal,” she said. “I am so happy with my decision to breastfeed Esmeralda. It’s hard to describe in words the bond we have. Breastfeeding her has helped us create a world of our own. When I’m nursing her, it’s just she and I. I feel fulfilled.”

Pierce admits it’s been challenging.

“As an LPN working 10 hour shifts it’s hard,” she said. “Despite it all, it’s very rewarding.”

Heather Hoosier, licensed clinical social worker and New Parent Support Program home visitor, set up an informational table at the Big Latch On.

“I wanted to be here to contribute to the event and our breastfeeding community,” she said. “I brought resources to our families, so they know what is available to them at the JRTC and Fort Polk.”

Hoosier said her program is designed to provide education and support for expectant parents and families with children three years old and younger.

“We have a few classes, conduct home visits and have office hours,” she said. “If new and expectant families have questions, we can assist them or refer them to appropriate resources.”

Hoosier said Army Community Service and the New Parent Support Program are here for military families.

“We have a lot of resources,” she said. “But first and foremost, we are here in a non-judgmental environment for new parents to have adult conversations, provide any assistance we can, answer questions they might have and refer them to other agencies when necessary. Parenting is hard, especially in the beginning and we are here to support new parents.”

Nahomi Ortiz is new to the installation and expecting a baby in August.

“I am going to be a first-time mom and I’m lost on everything about motherhood,” she said. “I’m trying to learn as much as I can. I plan to breastfeed because I know it is the healthiest option for me and my baby.”

Ortiz plans to breastfeed for one year.

“I didn’t realize how much support there was in the community for new parents,” she said. “It was great to see the providers, nurses, the lactation counselors here today.”

Jessica Wood and her two-month-old son Griffin won a new breast pump during the Big Latch On.

“Griffin is my first child and breastfeeding is hard,” she said. “I was looking for a supportive community to find answers to some of my questions.”

Wood said she learned about the event from the New Parent Support Program’s stroller walk.

“Events like this are so valuable,” she said. “It’s hard to make friends when you move to a new place. I like to go to things like this to meet new people with similar interests. Sometimes attending events like this are the only time I get to talk to people.”

Harrison said the event was so successful she’s looking forward to the next one.

“I hope this is just the beginning and we can collaborate on future endeavors like this throughout the year to support everyone’s breastfeeding journey,” she said.

Editor’s Note: TRICARE offers a variety of breastfeeding and lactation support services and supplies to beneficiaries. Visit the following to learn more: https://www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/IsItCovered/BreastfeedingCounseling
https://www.tricare.mil/CoveredServices/IsItCovered/BreastPumpsSupplies
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