With her first two kids, Erika Viramontes was determined to breastfeed. And both girls took to it like little champs from the first time they emerged into the world.
But baby sister Abigail, who arrived a month ago, just didn’t seem to be catching on. Sisters Luz, 10, and Maryellen, 4, tease that the baby, a tiny mite still less than 7 pounds, with a thatch of thick dark hair, is just being “lazy.”
In truth, some babies and their moms need help, particularly after a cesarean birth like Abigail’s, with the disruption and physical trauma that come with it.
That’s what brought a tearful Viramontes to the “Breastfeeding Cafe.” You can’t get a latte here, but moms can get help serving the best milk possible to their babies.
The cafe is a free drop-in program in Santa Rosa. Twice a week, mothers of infants who are having trouble latching on or who need some advice, can relax on a comfy couch or upholstered chair in a homey, living room like setting, and join a support circle. It includes professional help from nurses and lactation specialists as well as other mothers going through the same challenges to getting their babies to feed as nature intended.
“When I gave birth to Abigail, she was dropping a lot of weight and I was having trouble with my milk supply,” said Viramontes, a soft-spkoken woman from Forestville, who breastfed one daughter until she was 5 and the other until she was 2.
But Abigail was delivered by C-section, which contributed to a lower milk supply. Viramontes said she was suffering post-partum depression, exacerbated by not being able to feed her baby.
While breastfeeding is completely natural, it doesn’t always go smoothly. Babies don’t take to it for various reasons. And because a woman’s milk production is tied to how much an infant feeds, any disruption can lead to less milk for baby and a higher likelihood that a new mom may start supplementing with formula, or give up on breastfeeding altogether, said Roseanne Gephart, who runs the cafe through a non-proft organization she founded called Better Beginnings, aimed at providing support for women at birth and with nursing their babies.
A nurse-midwife and nurse practitioner who has been bringing babies into the world for more than 30 years in Sonoma County, Gephart founded the The Santa Rosa Birth Center, (formerly the Womens Health and Birth Center), one of the first out-of-hospital birthing centers in the state. Although she sold it several years ago, she volunteers her time to Better Beginnings, troubleshooting, coaching and encouraging nursing mothers out of the belief that breastmilk is the foundation for a healthy start in life.
At the cafe, which is open Mondays and Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., women get both practical information and emotional support. As they settle in they are served a special tea and cookies with ingredients that are good for milk production. Any nursing mother is invited to come by at no charge. Babies are weighed before they feed and after, to see that they’re getting the requisite 1 1/2 to 2 ounces of milk. If not, Gephart or another volunteer lactation specialist, try to get to the bottom of the problem.