First-time parent Jen Carius was often alone with her infant daughter for the first several months of her life. Her fiancée sometimes worked 50-60 hours per week, and Carius had relocated to Grand County only a year before her daughter was born.
Since her daughter was born at Lutheran Hospital in Denver, Carius found herself returning there for a monthly support group.
“I was shipping her over the Divide for this support group because I needed it and there wasn’t anything up here,” she said. “Those first few months were rough. I actually tried to find online support groups. Ella was so small, she had trouble getting back up to her birth weight. I was nursing around the clock. I sometimes felt like it was just her and I.”
Rosalie Rust, a certified breastfeeding counselor for the nonprofit organization Breastfeeding USA, wants to help alleviate that isolation new mothers may feel in a mountain community. Rust hosts monthly meetings at Pregnancy Resource Connection in Granby. The meetings are an informal chance to offer “mother-to-mother and woman-to-woman support,” according to Rust.
“Anyone interested in breastfeeding and parenting can come,” she said.
Rust is involved with Breastfeeding USA out of her desire to help and inform. She completed four months of training in September of 2013 and donates her time to the organization as a volunteer.
“I see how valuable breastfeeding is, not only to my own children, but to society as a whole,” she said. “I see a lot of really scared and isolated women who aren’t up to parenting. I want them to know that they are the experts on their babies. I want them to have the knowledge to get breastfeeding off on the right start.”
Breast milk is widely accepted as the most complete food for infants. The Center for Disease Control’s 2013 breastfeeding report card reported that 77 percent of infants nationwide are breastfed at birth, but that number drops to 49 percent at 6 months. Colorado is above the national average with 89.1 percent and 56.5 percent, respectively.
Oftentimes, mothers know the importance of breastfeeding for their baby’s health, but they encounter problems.
“All she might need is an adjustment to the technique. But she knows it’s important so she keeps plugging away until it becomes painful,” Rust said.
Other barriers can be cultural or emotional, or arise from the need to work and parent.
“Many women are working now, and they are unsure how their employer will feel about them taking time off to establish a strong breastfeeding relationship,” said Marilyn Banks, R.N. and certified lactation counselor with Grand County Public Health. Upon returning to work, the mother will also need time during work hours to express milk.
Since the group began meeting a year ago, Breastfeeding USA in Grand County has served 16 women. Rust is also available between meetings by phone, email or in-person consultations.
“We know that breastfeeding doesn’t work for all families. But what we want to avoid is: ‘I would have loved to breastfeed but…’,” said Rust. By removing the roadblocks some mothers face, Rust can contribute to the health of babies and their mothers in Grand County.
“Sometimes all I do is reassure them that the behavior-causing concern is regular infant behavior and not something out of the ordinary or worth worrying about,” she said.
“There is this idea that breastfeeding is natural and should be easy for women to do. But sometimes the mother and child need support to perfect that breastfeeding,” Banks said.
“I wish I had known about it earlier,” Carius said.