What It's Like to Be in a Virtual Breastfeeding Support Group
Alex McCaughin, of Gilberts, Illinois, gave birth to her daughter a week before the stay-at-home order in her state went into effect. Her daughter was born at 34 weeks and had to stay in the NICU for two weeks. As a first-time mom, the hardest part for McCaughin was the lack of social connection.
"Before you have a baby, you hear, 'It takes a village,' but unfortunately, due to COVID, our village was pretty tiny," she says. "The only people we really saw for the first two months were our parents, and even that was pretty minimal."
Another issue? Her breastfeeding journey was not at all what she imagined. "I wanted more than anything to be able to nurse my baby," says the 27-year-old. "I looked forward to the 'golden hour.'"
Instead, she started pumping as soon as her baby was born and transitioned from tube to bottle to breast feedings. She luckily had support from the lactation consultants at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital where she gave birth. They worked with her closely and even offered a few outpatients appointments after her daughter's birth. McCaughin was able to successfully nurse her daughter by the time she was 1 month old.
But McCaughin was still craving support from others who could identify with being a new mom during such a time. When she learned a virtual breastfeeding group would be available, she jumped on the opportunity.
How Virtual Breastfeeding Groups Work
With the demand for online support groups on the rise during the pandemic, the Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital is just one of many programs across the country that transitioned from in-person to virtual support. These online groups offer advice and information new moms opting to breastfeed need, especially since many aren't being given the opportunity meet with a lactation specialist in the hospital due to COVID-19.
While virtual meetings may leave out some in-person components, such as scales to weigh babies, the overall experience is similar. Like it would be in-person, the Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital virtual support group begins with everyone introducing themselves (if they feel comfortable) and telling the group how old their baby is or how many weeks pregnant they are. It's held via Zoom once a week for 40 minutes. Most parents in the group have babies ranging from newborns to about 3 months, but anyone breastfeeding, pumping, or soon-to-be breastfeeding is welcomed.
"Every week is different dependent on the attendees, and we want to make sure everyone's questions are answered, and their concerns are addressed," says Katie Reel, a lactation consultant at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital. "We always give the group an opportunity to provide support and insight to each other."
Virtual Support Groups Are Easing Isolation
For many, these support groups make isolation during this time a little less daunting. "I have heard these women say that they are feeling isolated at times and are so thankful for the connections and to hear that they are not alone," says Reel.
That was exactly what Sarah Sartori, of Oswego, Illinois, needed after she gave birth to her son Lucas at the end of May, although he wasn't due until July. Lucas spent a couple weeks in the special care nursery before going home. "Having a baby during COVID was certainly different from how I imagined it would be," she says. "Once Lucas came home, we did not have any visitors for a few weeks—this allowed our immediate family time to quarantine at home to try to limit any exposure prior to meeting the baby."
Sartori joined her hospital's virtual breastfeeding group to connect with lactation consultants and become more confident in breastfeeding. But the group has also become a social outlet to connect with other new moms as they discuss a range of topics: feeding frequency and amount, breast health, breastfeeding products, how the baby tolerates and digests milk, as well as struggles concerning low milk supply, thrush, and blocked milk ducts.
Above all, the online group has offered her much-needed emotional support she feels she wouldn't have found elsewhere. "Having a baby during a worldwide pandemic is incredibly isolating, and attending a group is a way to connect with other moms that are also working through the same situation," she says. "Having an online community to connect with has been refreshing and being able to ask questions to a lactation consultant on a weekly basis has helped ease my anxiety."
McCaughin agrees: "To know that there were others who were struggling in the same ways as I was, not just with breastfeeding, but with being a new mom during COVID, made me feel less lonely."
Find Your Own Virtual Breastfeeding Support Group
New parents can find their own virtual breastfeeding classes by calling their local hospital to see if they are offering. Facebook is also a great resource for support groups with options including La Leche League International's Breastfeeding Support Group, Dairy Queens Breastfeeding Support Group, Milky Mamas Breastfeeding Support Group, The Leaky Boob, and KellyMom Breastfeeding Support. There are also online birthing and parenting classes that can be helpful for any new parent's journey.