The new Baby Cafe at the Boston Medical Center isn't a spot to drink coffee or work on a laptop. Instead, it's a place where new moms and dads can get some often much-needed help.
"The Baby Cafe is an opportunity for an expecting parent or a parent of a newborn to drop in and receive information and support around breastfeeding," said Dr. Renee Boynton-Jarrett, MD, a pediatrician at BMC.
Parents can also attend a Baby Cafe to learn about infant attachment and bonding, social-emotional development, community resources and to simply connect with other new parents who are in similar situations, Boynton-Jarrett said.
The drop-in groups meet from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Tuesday on the fifth floor of the Yawkey building at 850 Harrison Ave. To Boynton-Jarrett, these groups are beneficial both to the babies as well as the parents.
"The beautiful thing about these free drop-in groups is that parents are experts to other parents, so it creates that social connection," she said. "Often, after people have babies it can be very socially isolating—there's lots of placed you can't go with a newborn, lots of things you can't do—so it's a place where you can connect with other parents. "
Boynton-Jarrett also leads the Vital Village Community Engagement Network at BMC, which works to support the well-being of every child by building avenues of community support. To her, the way parents share advice and support one another is essential to that well being of both the child and its parents.
Vital Village has launched more than five free, drop-in breastfeeding groups in September alone, but this one at BMC marks it as the first hospital in Boston to have an on-site Baby Cafe support group. BMC modeled their Baby Cafe off of Baby Cafe USA, a non-profit originally developed in the United Kingdom.
There are several other Baby Cafes in community centers across Massachusetts. The BMC location is open to anyone, whether or not they have been BMC patients, and this shows the hospital's commitment to supporting families even after they've been discharged, Boynton-Jarrett said. It's actually this fact—that so many hospitals here are "baby friendly"—that plays right into why Baby Cafes are important.
"We find that because so many hospitals in the Massachusetts area are baby friendly, breastfeeding initiation while in-hospital is pretty high. A lot of moms will try breastfeeding while they're in the hospital," she said. "But in the first three months after taking newborns home, we see—espeically in lower income families—that rate of breastfeeding drops dramatically, to about 30 percent."
Boynton-Jarrett isn't pushing moms to breastfeed if it's not what they want, but notes that many women don't have access to information about breastfeeding's benefits or support for any difficulties they may face when trying to breastfeed on their own at home.
"Pediatricians recommend exclusively breastfeeding the first six months to a year," she said. "It has a lot of benefits like immune development, growth, attachment to mom and baby."
Boynton-Jarrett said that she's had patients who were never told of these benefits and that they say they were dissapointed that they weren't better informed. She also said she has seen a definite interest in moms to breastfeed, and that since starting the practice at the Codman Square Health Center, many enthusiastic moms have come to sessions.
Even in Mattapan, which has one of the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates in the first three months, Boynton-Jarrett said, they have one of the most crowded Baby Cafes.
"I think that the benefit of the model is going to show itself," Boynton-Jarrett said. "There's something really powerful about creating these opportunities for parents to learn from each other and share what they've learned with other parents."
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