As National Breastfeeding Month wraps up, HealthConnect One is eager to highlight the importance and impact of breastfeeding peer counseling services in Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. Breastfeeding peer counselors often identify as an experienced parent and confidant who offers culturally appropriate support and information, identifies breastfeeding and lactation challenges, and provides strategies to help mothers achieve their infant feeding goals.
To celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week, HealthConnect One has featured the inspiring work of Bendina Thomas, a current breastfeeding peer counselor with one of our partner sites, Touch of Gold. Touch of Gold is a nonprofit organization that centers those within the African Diaspora on the journey of motherhood. Their purpose is to be the bridge between mothers and the support necessary to achieve healthy pregnancies, fulfilling births, successful nursing experiences, empowered parenting, and enriched lives.
Throughout this interview, Bendina touches on her own journey of breastfeeding counseling, and her mission to help mothers & families overcome barriers to breastfeeding.
What does it mean to be a breastfeeding peer counselor?
For me, to be a breastfeeding peer counselor is to educate and empower women, mothers & even families to speak up for what they and their babies need and want. It means offering that support with love and having somebody with the education and training behind it. I know that things are hands-off in our role, but if we don’t have the answer we can find the answer for them. It also helps when you have somebody that looks like you and has experienced what you have experienced, it makes it even more relatable!
What is your story? How did you end up at Touch of Gold?
My own story is I have two beautiful girls. One is six years old now, and the other is about one and a half years old. For my six-year-old, I breastfed her for about two and a half years, and for my one-and-a-half-year-old, I breastfed her for about seven months.
Stephanie (President of Touch of Gold) and I connected via Facebook because I wanted to be able to help local moms – especially women of color in our community because I see a lack of representation. So I was working with her on the board of another nonprofit that she has, so once this opportunity came up, I went to the pilot meeting to learn about HealthConnect One, and it flourished from there. I did the training and we knocked it out!
How have you impacted the lives of those you have served?
Just with the families that I have talked to during the training and even before then by letting them know what we do and that you’re here for them – a lot of them are just so shocked because they didn’t know that we were there. They say “Oh! You look like me.” and “This is what I went through, and I now know that I don’t have to go through that anymore because you all have services for that.” Many have said that they have no idea these kinds of services even existed.
Seeing that “light” go off in people just to brighten u and feel so accepted and loved has been my favorite part of the experience so far.
What did you wish others knew about Breastfeeding Peer Counseling?
I would say that it’s okay to get help, it’s okay to not know, and it’s okay to be worried – your feelings are valid. One thing that stuck out to me throughout my training, is teaching others to advocate for themselves. Because me, I’m a momma bear, and I’ll just step in and I want to be like “No! You can’t do that” or “This is how it needs to be”. But being able to teach people and say “This is normal”, or this is what you can speak up for if this is what you’re experiencing, and to educate them ahead of time so if that event does happen they can think ac and say “Hey, Bendina told me about this, and I know this is how I can handle it.” That’s the biggest thing.
To learn more about HealthConnect One’s lactation & breastfeeding peer counseling programs visit us here
To learn more about Touch of Gold visit their site here