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'Baby Cafe' Comes To Albany

Baby Cafe
Jesse King
Albany's Baby Cafe officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday.

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week, St. Peter’s Health Partners opened its newest Baby Café Tuesday in Albany. 

The free drop-in center at 301 Washington Avenue is an affiliate of Baby Café USA and run by Albany’s Baby Institute. Erin Sinisgalli, director of community health programs at St. Peter’s, says the café was established with state grants to help expecting and new mothers learn more about breastfeeding – and, in turn, combat childhood obesity.

“Babies who are breastfed when they’re infants, they actually have a lower rate of obesity all the way until adulthood," Sinisgalli notes. "And one of the theories behind that is that breastfed babies – they eat until they’re full. And we don’t really know how much they ate, right, because they nurse. But they learn those cues of self-feeding and that, when they’re hungry they eat, when they’re full, they stop.” 

Lactation specialists at Albany’s Baby Café are available Tuesdays from 10 to noon. Specialist Stephanie Avienu says a lot of the job is weighing newborns and helping young moms navigate latching – but it’s also about creating a space where mothers can trade advice. Avienu says motherhood can be isolating, and while the internet can provide a sense of community, it also comes with its fair share of myths and misinformation.

“You know, we just kinda joke that it’s a blur of like, boobs and wet diapers, but we say [nursing] about eight to 12 times a day is usually what we’d expect," she explains. "So approximately every two hours, but not putting the baby on a schedule – watching that baby’s feeding cues. You know, baby will often want to nurse multiple times in the course of an hour, and then might sleep for a little bit.”

Avienu says babies can continue breastfeeding up to age 2. The biggest myth? That mothers are supposed to “grin and bear it.”

“Pain is a sign that something’s wrong," says Avienu. "So moms will come in and they'll be like – sometimes it’s their second baby, and with their first baby they just say ‘Oh, I just was in pain for six weeks and then it finally resolved itself.’ And sometimes it doesn’t.”

While the Washington Avenue café is the first in Albany County, it’s part of a growing effort in the Capital Region. The CEO Community Center in Troy also hosts a Baby Café, as does the Phyllis Bornt Branch Library and Literacy Center in Schenectady. Avienu says additional sites are in the works in Schenectady and Cohoes – all in an effort to increase accessibility.

“We’re trying to reach moms that maybe don’t have the resources, or don’t have transportation – or reliable transportation – so that they can come to a site that’s close to where they live," Avienu notes. "So in Troy, you know, it’s right in downtown, and moms can come by taking the bus, or even walking. And so same thing here.”

The second Schenectady Baby Café is expected to open at the Mont Pleasant Branch Library on August 29.

All of this comes on the heels of World Breastfeeding Week, a global initiative campaigning for paid parental leave and breastfeeding-friendly workspaces. For its part, Sinisgalli says St. Peter’s has used grant funding to establish lactation stations at Schenectady’s Proctors Theatre and Colonie Center. A mother herself, Sinisgalli says she wishes she had a Baby Café when breastfeeding her children.  

Baby Cafe
Credit Jesse King / WAMC
Albany's Baby Cafe boasts a number of books and toys for any toddlers accompanying their mothers.

“I had a really hard time learning how to breastfeed, and I remember calling the lactation consultants in the hospital and they said, ‘We can take the baby and you can drive to the hospital and see me when you’re available and I’m available,'" she explains. "But to have a place that, at my leisure, I can come and drop in and get the support – and not just from the lactation consultants, but other moms. Plus, we have places for children to play in these centers. Everything’s set up to be a really home-y, living-room-type of environment.”

Babe Café USA was established in 2011, and has 45 drop-in centers across 14 states. The organization says it supports more than 2,000 moms a year. 

Jesse King is the host of "51%" and a producer for WAMC's afternoon news programs. She also produces the WAMC podcast "A New York Minute In History."
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