Moms Mentoring Moms: Spotlight on Mother Warwick’s Role, a Rhode Island Certified Breastfeeding Counselor working in Johnston

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By JANE FRANCIS / Sunrise Special

More than half of the country’s infants participate in Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs, and the United States Department of Agriculture is shining a spotlight on the important role of the WIC program’s breastfeeding peer counselors.

In Rhode Island, mom of eight, Elaine DeSisto, who is an RI State Council International (IBCLC) certified lactation consultant, has been helping mothers breastfeed since 1997 when she began her career in as a peer counselor for WIC at Westbay Community Action in Warwick.

She now works at Tri-County Community Action in Johnston.

“When I was pregnant with my seventh child, my husband who is a baker was fired and someone told me about WIC,” DeSisto said. “After my eighth child, the coordinator, who knew that I had exclusively breastfed each of my babies, asked me if I would be interested in joining a new program where successful mothers can mentor other mothers by as a peer counselor and I just flourished. in this work. I love it.”

DeSisto trained to be a Certified Lactation Counselor and has achieved the highest level of lactation training as an IBCLC.

DeSisto is the first in her family to breastfeed.

“My mom was formula feeding and when I said I was going to breastfeed my first child, my mom was upset as she saw her role of helping feed the baby diminished,” DeSisto said. “But there are so many ways that grandparents can support a family – take the baby after it has been fed for walks, change the baby, cradle baby and just love mom and help prepare meals. You know, just be part of the team.

DeSisto said that despite Grandma’s initial fears, after seeing eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren breastfeed happily, it has normalized. She has settled into her role well and is comfortable with all breastfeeding in the family.

As a WIC peer counselor, DeSisto currently supports 63 pregnant and 58 breastfeeding participants.

“I always give out my business and personal cell phone number so moms can log in anytime,” DeSisto said. “Sometimes a mom can have a crisis. I got a call from dad at 11:30 p.m. saying mum and baby were crying and he didn’t know what to do, so I asked him to put mum on the phone and we had a chat and then we faced in time to see what was going on. Mom and baby were doing fine. I just went through feeding cues and breastfeeding management, and reminded mom that baby wakes up frequently and that is normal and can be overwhelming.

DeSisto said she always gets phone calls 24/7, “because I’ve been there and some babies are a little harder than others. I have a lot of stories and experiences to share with our moms.

Before the pandemic, DeSisto made many home visits with moms. Now it’s mostly over the phone or video call. Before contacting new moms, DeSisto does her research to find out if they are a prenatal or nursing mother and what their goals are.

“My job is to educate and empower mothers so they can make a more informed choice about how they want to feed their babies,” DeSisto said.

“The Rhode Island WIC program is fortunate, being such a small state, to have a breastfeeding advisor in every WIC agency,” said Ann Barone, WIC director for Rhode Island. “This level of care and reporting helps support families during stressful times in the first few weeks after birth. During the pandemic, Rhode Island WIC was able to pivot services to virtual contacts, who retained the same level of support. “

“I’m here to support their goals and to find out what I can do to make their lives easier,” DeSisto said. “Their goal could be to breastfeed for three days. I have had moms who plan to breastfeed for a month and then continue. There are times when I’m there just to listen. Families are juggling a lot with COVID, and I’ll stay on the phone with them to help sort it out. Sometimes they just need that social connection to talk to someone.

Dispelling misinformation is another important part of the job, according to DeSisto.

“When you’re pregnant you’re going to hear all kinds of birth and breastfeeding stories from well-meaning friends and family members, and I’ve also seen many families turn to the internet,” DeSisto said. . “Some information is just plain wrong. Many hospitals do not offer in-person birthing or breastfeeding classes at this time, so I refer them to virtual programs so they can have safe and accurate information without having to leave their homes. Healthy Babies, Happy Moms, which is a wonderful organization that WIC partners with in Rhode Island, offers free virtual support groups that we have referred our families to. And they have hospital grade breast pumps for moms in need. I had a mother who needed a hospital grade pump immediately for her baby with a cleft palate, and through this partnership we were able to provide this resource for her.

WIC also has a language line for connecting with customers.

“I have someone scheduled today who speaks Creole, so we’ll have an interpreter on the phone,” DeSisto said. “It’s a great resource to help us connect with families and has the added benefit of educating the interpreter and helping to normalize breastfeeding. “

DeSisto, who trains, coaches and provides counseling to all WIC peer counselors in Rhode Island, credits his colleagues in the WIC office and his relationship with pediatricians, midwives and obstetricians to the credit for successfully serving them. mothers and babies.

“You learn from each other,” DeSisto said. “I’m not embarrassed to say I don’t know. And I think that’s also what makes a good peer counselor to be always ready to listen and learn and ask for help if you need it.

Her experience has helped her build trust with moms.

“I always tell my moms it should never be all or nothing,” DeSisto said. “This is what works best for you and your baby. You need to be sensitive to a mother’s decision to breastfeed or not. You don’t know what they went through. I have had mothers who lived in homeless shelters and in abusive relationships. Breastfeeding may not work at this time. There is always more to history. It’s important to be an active listener to really know what’s going on and how you can help. My goal is to make a mom feel like the best mom in the world and be confident in her ability to care for her baby no matter how she feeds her child.

DeSisto asks open-ended questions to gather more information.

“Some moms are unexpectedly pregnant; some have tried multiple miscarriages, ”DeSisto said. “Who is their support system? I ask them if they work or go to school. I try to get as much information as possible to be sensitive to their individual situations and tailor my breastfeeding education and support to their needs.

DeSisto emphasizes that breastfeeding is not just about nutrition. “While the antibodies in breast milk help keep babies healthier, breastfeeding is such an intimate and personal connection,” DeSisto said. “You’re snuggled up against baby with their little fingers around your hand, and they’re looking at you and you know you’re doing your best to take care of and protect them.”

“I feel very blessed because I have had so many experiences, not only personally, but also through the families that I serve as a breastfeeding peer counselor. I am dedicated to these families and make myself available at all times, ”said DeSisto, leading by example,“ I got a call from mom when I was on vacation; by the tone of her voice, I knew I had to call her back immediately. She had breastfed her first two babies for three years, but her third baby had a medical problem that caused breastfeeding difficulties. I assured her that she would work with a team of people to help her and her baby through this ordeal. I had her manually express and put breast milk droplets in the baby’s mouth and gave him advice on baby positioning and expression. She was a seasoned mom in a moment of shock, and we had built this relationship where she knew she could call me anytime. I always take calls from my moms; my husband is used to it and supports me a lot. He has been the greatest champion of my breastfeeding journey.

DeSisto said she is proud to work for a program with the goal of serving families and giving them the best. “My husband and I have always wanted a big family,” DeSisto said, “and I think with every family there’s a chance to pay it forward, building a network of mother-to-mother mentors. other.”

One of the main goals of the WIC program is to improve the health of infants through breastfeeding; WIC staff encourage and support a mother’s individual breastfeeding goals and provide educational materials, counseling and advice on breastfeeding. Research suggests that breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain infections and illnesses in the baby, including ear infections, asthma, lower respiratory tract infections, diarrhea and vomiting, childhood obesity, eczema, type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia or SIDS. Breastfeeding gives babies a good start in life. But it’s not only good for babies, it’s also good for mom. Breastfeeding can help moms recover from childbirth faster.

“WIC is a trusted resource with many mothers and caregivers who turn to WIC for information about feeding their babies right after their doctors,” said Lizbeth Silbermann, Northeast Regional Administrator for the Department of Health. USDA Food and Nutrition.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children – better known as WIC – serves to protect the health of pregnant, postpartum, and women. low-income breastfeeding mothers, infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating including breastfeeding promotion and support , and references to health care.

You can find more information about WIC at www.fns.usda.gov/WIC. In Rhode Island, contact the Department of Health at health.ri.gov to learn more about WIC services. For WIC breastfeeding resources, visit wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov.

Editor’s Note: Jane Francis works in communications for the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service in the Northeast. She can be reached by phone at 617-565-6476, or by email, [email protected]


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