GARY — A breastfeeding clinic has opened here to support moms in an Indiana county with the one of the lowest rates of mothers nursing in the state.
The Milky Way Cafe, located at Gary Neighborhood Services, provides a meeting place for breastfeeding moms to share tips and get advice from lactation experts. The facility has served about a dozen moms since it opened in March.
"They'll get a chance to meet other breastfeeding moms who look like them and are in their communities," said Shelia George, of the Multicultural Wellness Network.
The clinic is a project of Healthy Start, Nurse-Family Partnership and the Multicultural Wellness Network. The group hopes to expand to East Chicago as well.
"It's support and resources for the moms. They can drop in and have their questions answered," said Paulette Maxie, director of Lake County Nurse-Family Partnership.
In 2015, the most recent year for which state data is available, 74 percent of Lake County mothers initiated breastfeeding, below the statewide average of 80 percent. However, among African-American moms in Lake County, only 59.9 percent breastfed. Gary is nearly 85 percent African-American.
"There are a lot of myths about breastfeeding we have to bust," said Rise Ratney, project director of Northwest Indiana Healthy Start. "A lot of grandmas say, 'Why would you want to do that?' And they think it hurts and it doesn't take a lot of work. But it comes with a lot of benefits. The good outweighs the bad."
Northern Lake County also has among the highest infant death rates in the state. Research has found breastfeeding lowers the risk of infant mortality because it prevents and reduces the severity of infections, betters breathing function, and improves the ability of babies to be aroused from sleep.
The Milky Way Cafe coordinators also noted that breastmilk is the perfect temperature, so it doesn't have to be heated up on the stove, and has been linked to higher IQs in infants.
Erishawn Griffin, a Gary native who recently moved to Portage, knew she wanted to breastfeed with her first child, daughter Giavonni, who's now 2 years old.
She recognized the benefits, to her child's digestive system, to her own hormonal regulation and risk of breast and ovarian cancer, to the bonding between her and her daughter.
Even though she successfully nursed Giavonni for 13 months, Griffin still sought out breastfeeding help after the birth of her son, Nehemiah, in the spring. She attended the Milky Way Cafe to learn from other moms and share her own knowledge with them.
"African-Americans are the most underserved demographic for breastfeeding," she said, as she nursed Nehemiah on a recent day at the Milky Way Cafe. "If resources are available, you usually have to leave the neighborhood to get it, and if you're low-income you can't get there. It's nice having a place like this in our own neighborhood."