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Promoting Breast-Feeding Among The Border's Working Moms

Vanessa Brady breast-feeds her 3-month-old son at the Baby Café in El Paso.
Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Vanessa Brady breast-feeds her 3-month-old son at the Baby Café in El Paso.

Hanging Out At The Baby Cafe

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Promoting Breast-Feeding Among The Border's Working Moms

Promoting Breast-Feeding Among The Border's Working Moms

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — New mothers in one of the most violent cities in the world now have a peaceful space to bond with their babies.

A new support center for breast-feeding moms called the “ Baby Café” just opened up in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez. The café is a cozy spot for moms to hang out, ask questions and get support from professionals. The concept began in the United Kingdom and has spread worldwide. The main goal is to help moms breast-feed their babies to age six months and beyond.

The Baby Café in Juárez celebrated its inauguration in late August and is the first to open in Latin America. It's located in a small, but cozy room, just below the unit where babies are delivered at a city hospital. It’s furnished with a couple of couches, some chairs, a rug and toys for visiting toddlers.

Few mothers continue to breast-feed after leaving the hospital, especially those with full-time jobs. Some studies indicate a big reason for that is the lack of a strong support system post discharge. Breast-feeding can be a challenge and many mothers give up quickly.

Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe

Vanessa Brady breast-feeds her 3-month-old son at the Baby Café in El Paso.

Ciudad Juárez is full of working women. A generation ago it was the go to place for women hungry to work. They came in the thousands from all over Mexico to work in the city's maquiladora industry. They made seat belts, computer screens and parts for vacuum cleaners for companies around the world.

“I think between 50 to 80 percent of the women I treat are working moms,” said Blanca Posada, a Juárez nurse who specializes in reproductive health.

Elizabeth Mendez is a maquiladora worker who gave birth to a boy one day before the opening of the Baby Café. Her shift at the factory starts at 6 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. She also spends two-hours round trip on the bus to and from work. Statistically, she has a less than 15 percent chance of breast-feeding beyond her hospital stay.

Across the border in El Paso, there is another Baby Café. Libby Berkeley is the founder and the on-duty lactation consultant. She and others helped raise funds to help start the one in Juárez.

“Every month that you breast-feed your baby, the benefits of breast-feeding increase and increase and increase,” Berkeley said.

Berkeley is so gung-ho about breast-feeding, she once filled a New York City subway car full of nursing moms for her master's thesis.

Among the many benefits of breast-feeding is that it helps prevent obesity. The United States and Mexico are the top two heaviest countries in the world. And along the border, diabetes is the third leading cause of death. In Mexico, it's the number one killer.

Photo by Mónica Ortiz Uribe

Libby Berkeley is the lactation consultant at the Baby Café in El Paso. She helped raise funds for the café in Juárez.

At the same time, American moms are just as likely as Mexican moms to quit breast-feeding early. At the Baby Café in El Paso, about 100 moms a month drop by seeking help.

Jennifer Wilson is a 38-year-old first-time mom who worked as a school teacher prior to giving birth. She's been coming to the café for about 15 months.

“I came to the Baby Café when my boy was 8 days old because I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I was having a nervous breakdown.”

Breast-feeding takes time, patience and persistence. Nowadays it seems infinitely easier to grab a bottle of formula.

The U.S. Surgeon General wants half of all new moms to breast-feed for at least six months by 2020. More Baby Café locations are expected to open in Texas and northern Mexico later this year.