Words of encouragement and affirmation decorate the halls of Sunflower County’s community baby cafe, Let’s Talk Baby Cafe (formerly known as the Delta Baby Cafe). Located in Indianola, Let’s Talk has become an essential resource for nearly 80 mothers who frequent the cafe to comfortably practice nursing their babies and access helpful resources and information.
Jacqueline Lambert, Support Service Manager at Delta Health Alliance (DHA) and Lead Facilitator and Founder of the Let’s Talk Baby Cafe, speaks on what inspired her to start a baby cafe in Sunflower County, and how her initiative has helped mothers in the community overcome the stigmas surrounding breastfeeding and navigate the unknowns of early motherhood.
Creating a Safe Space
Lambert said her idea for creating Let’s Talk Baby Cafe came from her time working with The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). She saw how effective baby cafes were in providing mothers with a safe space to breastfeed and find support for early motherhood, and was inspired to recreate that in Sunflower County.
“While working with WIC, I heard about the baby cafe model,” Lambert said, “and I wanted to be able to reach out to moms and create a safe space for them to talk about their pregnancies, childbirth, or anything going on in their lives.”
Not only does Let’s Talk Baby Cafe offer new mothers a chance to connect, it also provides access to lactation resources, such as latching techniques and breast pumps, through DHA’s breastfeeding support program. Working moms are given advice on how to schedule feeding, pumping, and newborn care. Let’s Talk will even work with the mother’s insurance to see if affordable options are available.
New fathers can also receive support at Let’s Talk and are often interested in learning more about breastfeeding and postpartum in order to find new ways to support their partners.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises mothers to practice exclusive breastfeeding (EBF) for 6 months, and considers this to be the most effective way of giving babies the nutrients they need to develop.
In Mississippi, however, breastfeeding rates are among the lowest in the nation, especially in the Delta region of the state. In Sunflower County, only 40% of infants were breastfed within the first hour of life from 2018 to 2019, which was far lower than the national average, which sits just below 84%.
The health benefits of breastfeeding have been well documented and extend to both mom and baby. For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of Type 2 diabetes and hypertension; for babies, breastfeeding decreases the likelihood of obesity, asthma, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
But in Mississippi, the barriers to breastfeeding are numerous, especially for Black mothers. In addition to the high-cost of supplies, such as breast pumps, and the lack of education around nursing, stigmas surrounding breastfeeding prevent many mothers from initiating. Lambert said breaking these stigmas was another motivating factor for starting Let’s Talk.
“That was another goal: to create a place for mothers to go and to see other women that look like them who are nursing,” said Lambert. “A lot of times if you don’t see nursing you don’t think it’s happening. Well, our moms were nursing, it’s just they were ashamed to tell people they were nursing, because they themselves didn’t see it.”
In addition to normalizing breastfeeding by creating a supportive environment in the cafe, Lambert says that changing how women and, to a larger extent, communities view nursing will help programs focus on what other ways mothers may need support.
“Once we start changing how we view [breastfeeding] it changes what we can do to support it,” said Lambert.
But normalizing the practice of breastfeeding is just one stigma Lambert is working to break. Another stigma surrounds the very discussion of breastfeeding. Some new moms are too embarrassed, uncomfortable, or even ashamed to ask questions or start conversations about nursing, and this can prevent them from getting the information they need to start the latching process.
Lambert chose “Let’s Talk” as the new name for the baby cafe, because it introduces people to the conversation and community-focused aspects of the cafe right from the start.
“I decided to go with the name ‘Let’s Talk’ because that’s what I wanted it to be–conversation,” said Lambert. “I wanted people to feel welcomed and not threatened or think that they couldn’t participate if they weren’t breastfeeding. No, let’s talk. Let’s talk about breastfeeding, let’s talk about newborn care, let’s just talk. And when people see these discussions as a conversation and not a presentation, they’re able to open up more.”
Seeing a Change
Whether in-person or online, Let’s Talk provides opportunities for mothers to access the tools they need to support their nursing.
During the pandemic, Let’s Talk hosted virtual programs for mothers to ask questions and learn more about nursing. These programs were especially helpful to mothers who had transportation issues or underlying health concerns. Lambert says the cafe’s work during that time, as well as its continued work in the community is truly making a difference.
“I have seen a change. I’ve noticed that we’ve become a resource in the community. People don’t mind sharing or letting their families know that there is a baby cafe available to help them with their breastfeeding concerns,” Lambert said.