Breastfeeding Support Group is the Key for Moms in Overcoming Breastfeeding Obstacles

Cassandra Collier was ready to throw in the towel with breastfeeding when she attended the breastfeeding support group held at UConn Health and met Dana Helak who just four months before had felt the same way. They formed a friendship that is helping them over the hurdles of breastfeeding.

Dana Helak and her daughter Audrey, Marisa Merlo, UConn Health lactation consultant, Cassandra Collier and her son Kai. (photo credit: Jennifer Walker, UConn Health)

You may have heard people describe breastfeeding as one of the most natural things in the world. It is certainly true that women have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of time, and research shows the positive benefits of breast milk, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy.

The truth is that almost everyone struggles in the early days. Maybe in different ways. Some may have issues with getting a deep latch. Some may struggle with the intensity of their baby’s needs. Some may struggle with a sick baby, birth complications, or a baby who isn’t latching at all.

UConn Health is proud to offer around-the-clock breastfeeding support with a full-time internationally board-certified lactation consultant, Marisa Merlo, who offers support to families and babies learning how to breastfeed. Nurses trained in lactation support and certified as lactation counselors who are dedicated to helping mothers reach their breastfeeding goals are also available to patients.

Merlo works with parents and their individual breastfeeding goals. “It’s not always all or nothing,” says Merlo. “Every family has their specific situation to make breastfeeding work for them and I’m there to assist in helping reach their goals.”

Kai is satisfied after a feeding during the breastfeeding support group. (Photo: Jennifer Walker, UConn Health)

Cassandra Collier had a beautiful baby boy, Kai, her second son, her first is a teenager now. Exhausted from lack of sleep and the pain she was experiencing from healing; she was struggling with breastfeeding.

Collier had met Merlo at a prenatal visit and called to see if the breastfeeding support group held at UConn Health was happening that day and when she found out it was, she showed up in tears, feeling broken and left with new hope and support.

Dana Helak didn’t know a lot about breastfeeding and wasn’t feeling strongly about it when she gave birth to her daughter, Audrey four months ago. When Audrey was placed on her chest and latched on right away, Helak was inspired to breastfeed.

“I hadn’t researched it and had no supplies, I was clueless,” says Helak. “I had the flyer Marisa had given me for the support group and I was counting down the days until the first meeting.”

Like most mothers, Helak wasn’t prepared for how hard it was going to be. “If it wasn’t for Marisa, I would have quit,” says Helak.

Helak wants other mothers to know that it is not always easy, but help is out there. Merlo taught her how to syringe feed and supplement, and that it doesn’t have to be all or none when it comes to breast milk and formula.

Audrey plays on the floor during the breastfeeding support group. (Photo Credit: Jennifer Walker)

Audrey soon started gaining weight and is now exclusively on breast milk. So, when she saw Collier in tears at the support group, she knew exactly how she was feeling and wanted to help.

“It was de ja vu when I saw Cassandra so upset at the support group because when I first went to group feeling the same way and there was another mom there with a four-month-old who connected with me, helping me get through,” says Helak. “Now I was there with Audrey who is four months old, and I can help Cassandra the same way and show her that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

“I told Cassandra, ‘I know where you what can I do to help?’” says Helak.

“Dana was there with Audrey and she told me how she had struggled too and it gave me back my hope,” says Collier.

The following day Collier spent time with Helak at her home. They had the same breast pump and Helak showed Collier how to put it together and use it. Helak was also able to give her the formula that Audrey no longer used so Collier could use it to supplement Kai.

“The ready-to-feed formula is so hard to find and I’m so happy it didn’t go to waste and Cassandra can use it to help her feedings for Kai,” says Helak.

Collier didn’t end up giving up, with the support she received from meeting Helak and Merlo. While Kai still is struggling with latching, she doesn’t feel as bad because her pumping is getting better, and he is growing.

“This group changed my life,” says Collier.

“The breastfeeding support group is such a great way to get out with your baby in the early days knowing it is a safe space and provides a social component to new moms,” says Helak. “It was so nice to make the connection with Cassandra and support her.”

“It takes a village, and support is one of the biggest determinants for moms meeting their breastfeeding goals, which is why our services are so important,” says Merlo.

Both moms now regularly attend the breastfeeding support group UConn Health offers for breastfeeding moms and their babies who are looking for additional breastfeeding assistance and a community support network. The group is an informal drop-in support group facilitated by Merlo, our certified lactation consultant.

Merlo weighs the babies before they feed and that after so that moms know how much breastmilk their babies are getting and it helps the moms to know how much milk they are producing and the baby is taking in so they can plan their feeding accordingly.

The group meets on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 1 to 3 p.m. at UConn Health for their patients.

UConn Health is proud to offer around-the-clock breastfeeding support. We have a full-time, internationally board-certified lactation consultant on staff, as well as nurses trained in lactation support and certified as lactation counselors who are dedicated to helping mothers reach their breastfeeding goals.

UConn Health offers support at every stage of your parenting journey with prenatal education including lactation consults and breastfeeding classes before your stay. During your say, lactation consults are available on-site as well as supplemental support from our nurses who are Certified Lactation Counselors.

“We hope more patients take advantage of the support group to connect with other moms and get the support they need as that is the biggest hurdle to breastfeeding,” says Merlo.