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August is Breastfeeding Awareness month but providing support and resources to encourage breastfeeding is a year-round priority for the City of New York. Baby Café®, where trained professionals provide practical breastfeeding support, is an important – and popular – program that is helping to reduce maternal and infant health inequities in New York City.  Offered by the NYC Health Department’s Neighborhood Health Action Centers in North and Central Brooklyn, East Harlem, and the South Bronx​, the Baby Cafes have evolved into hybrid (in-person and online) meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baby Cafe meetings are open to breastfeeding/chestfeeding people, partners, and family​ members. Café facilitators often are International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) who can help with all aspects of breastfeeding, including assistance with latching and milk supply. While the big picture focus of the Baby Café program is to normalize breastfeeding and promote the health benefits to mother and child, the heart of the Baby Café experience is validating the realities and challenges mothers face and respecting the choices they make.

“We support, promote, and encourage breastfeeding as the optimal feeding choice for infants, but understand that this may not be possible for all families,” says Leticia Rios, an IBCLC who facilitates the Brownsville Baby Café. “It’s important to provide information on the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of formula feeding to allow families the opportunity to make an informed decision. For some mothers, their first child was on formula, but they want to breastfeed with their second child. Each baby is different. We are there to support the family with goals for safe infant feeding.”

While facilitators of the Baby Cafes have topics of focus ready for each meeting, the events often unfold organically with wide-ranging conversations about parenting. This helps new mothers build confidence and connect to a supportive community of peers. It is also an opportunity for participants to share information and resources, including about the complimentary services and support available through the Family Wellness Suites at the Neighborhood Action Centers. The Family Wellness Suites host the Baby Cafes and offer a variety of other parenting classes, as well as provide free supplies to new parents such as car seats and safe cribs. 

“Mothers need connections and information beyond what they might get in a visit to a pediatrician,” says Jacklyn Vingan an IBCLC who facilitates the East Harlem Baby café. “For example, we recently had a mom join who just got out of a shelter. Her case worker knew about the Baby Café. Now we’re getting the mom and her baby resources through the Family Wellness Suite. The mother did the hard and scary thing of showing up and asking for help and we want to be as welcoming and supportive as possible.”

Watch a short video of moms talking about their experiences with Leticia at the Brownsville Baby Café, and follow @NYCbaby on Instagram. Read about how the Baby Cafes and support for mothers continued even during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.   Attend upcoming maternal and new family health events.