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Rockland Receives Grant To Encourage Breastfeeding, Will Open Baby Cafes

Rockland County is one of six New York recipients of a state grant to encourage breastfeeding. The grant will help the county house the Hudson Valley’s first Baby Café, which is slated to be up and running by the end of the year.

The Rockland County Department of Health was the only such grant recipient in the Hudson Valley. County Executive Ed Day announced the $1.2 million grant at a WIC, or Women, Infants, and Children center in Spring Valley.

“We’re working with Baby Café USA, which is a non-profit organization that helps coordinate a network of drop-in cafes where pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can get free support from trained staff and can share experiences with other moms,” Day says. “And that’s critically important as we all do know.”

Spring Valley resident Jessica Tenesaca agrees.

She says it’s beneficial for breastfeeding women to be together and share information, opinions  and experiences. The WIC center in Spring Valley will house the first Baby Café in the Hudson Valley and New York City region, furnished with surplus from the shuttered Summit Park nursing home, like chairs, tables and a couch. There are Baby Cafés elsewhere in New York and in Massachusetts, including in Springfield. Day says Rockland eventually will have five Baby Cafes, focusing on underserved communities in Ramapo and Clarkstown.

“This is a good move for babies. It’s a good move for moms. It’s a great move for families,” Day says. “It’s good for businesses, and it’s just a great thing for Rockland County.”

Melissa Jacobson is assistant director for Rockland County’s Division of Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention.

“Here in Rockland County, we’re really looking to establish these baby cafes in places where there’s a lot of  ethnic and cultural diversity and where the need is greater for people to come together,” Jacobson says.

Spring Valley resident Ngan Qwan was on hand with her five-month old son.

“I love this office. They’ve helped me so much in learning how to breastfeed and they’ve helped me to learn..  to be more comfortable with breastfeeding in public,” says Qwan. “It’s kind of, not that it’s looked down upon but it’s been looked at very differently. It felt like it wasn’t normal. And they made me feel very comfortable. They empower me.”

The Baby Café will be a drop-in center open to all Rockland residents. Elisheva Slomiuc is a WIC peer counselor, offering breastfeeding support.

“This baby café and the other baby cafes that will be open will be breastfeeding friendly community spaces. So this is to make the community more breastfeeding friendly,” says Slomiuc. There’s a component of the grant that will work with employers so that employers can be credentialed through the state as being breastfeeding friendly, Doctors offices also have a credentialing for being designated as being breastfeeding friendly.”

Day wants to encourage businesses to make  accommodations so that employees can continue to breastfeed once they return to the job market. 

Laurie Messinger is with the Rockland County Health Department's Breastfeeding Support and Promotion Program, and is a breastfeeding mother herself. She says the grant will help dilute the stigma of breastfeeding in public.

“You still face a lot of barriers out in the community and challenges and strange stares once in awhile, and it is still happening,” Messinger says. “So we’re hoping by educating everyone, getting practices to become breastfeeding-friendly designated is going to help break those barriers, those stigmas that are out there.”

Georgina Martinez knows the strange stares.

She says many people see it as: why are you breastfeeding in public? Martinez says she doesn’t understand why because it’s not something bad, it’s natural. Again, Jacobson.

“We’re going to be working with private entities, like work sites. We’re hoping to approach some larger community venues in the county, like the mall, to have a lactation space designated there,” Jacobson says. “So we’re really hoping that it’s going to be everywhere that people are, whether it’s where they work, whether it’s where they’re receiving medical care, whether it’s where they’re shopping, whether they’re praying, we’re going to reach everyone.”

Agencies that will partner with Rockland’s Department of Health include Nyack Hospital, Lower Hudson Valley Perinatal Network, and Childcare Resources of Rockland. Meanwhile, Day says the county wants to encourage its own employees to breastfeed and will create additional lactation rooms for them.  

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