The Big Latch On event at The Breastfeeding Center in Massillon.

Parenting SOS, in search of support, Part 6: Breastfeeding support groups

By Julie Cajigas

Breastfeeding support is often our earliest introduction to parental support.

My nursing journey involved tongue ties, weight loss, suppositories (for them, not me), low supply, power pumping, a supplemental nursing system, fenugreek, moringa and every kind of blue Gatorade out there. I even had my nursing with one of my kids interrupted by emergency gallbladder surgery at eight days postpartum.

Suffice to say, I’ve taken advantage of the lactation support offered beginning in the hospital room and all the way up until the babies wean. 

Luckily, I have a close family friend who is a “breast whisperer.” No, really. Tina Schulin is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for University Hospitals in Elyria, and she saved my personal nursing journey. Yes, I drove from Copley to Elyria for the breast whisperer.

Seriously… one time I saw her massage out a blockage and it was insane.

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With my first child, a severe tongue tie and inexperience were a devastating combo. By the time I connected with Tina, I had already resorted to supplementing my daughter with formula using a spoon, because when she would take the bottle, she would refuse the breast.

After about five weeks, I decided it should be safe to give the bottle. I nursed first, then we gave a supplement in a bottle. For the rest of that day into the late evening, she would just scream at the breast.

I had always said if I couldn’t nurse, no big deal, but suddenly it felt as if my very existence depended upon it. I sobbed that entire day and met with her for an outpatient visit the next morning. 

One tiny little silicone tube later, I was on the journey to nursing all three of my kids well past a year.

I don’t know why, but I was afraid to go to a breastfeeding support group.

Schulin introduced me to the Lorain County Virtual Breastfeeding Support Group and encouraged me to attend in-person meetings. At first, I thought, drive an hour to a support group? By my third child, I drove there three times per week for the first 10 weeks or so.

Now I know about the very real uncertainty women feel when wondering if the baby is getting enough and the loneliness of being at home with baby. I also know that support groups help.

Was there something magic in Elyria? Well, maybe not, but I’m a fan of going with what you know. That said, I have since met wonderful IBCLCs at both major Akron-area hospitals (I gave birth in one and had my gallbladder surgery in the other), and I’m happy to report that you can find your own breast whisperer in the Akron community.

In fact, women in Akron have a true plethora of options. I spoke with Lis Maseth, BSN/RN and IBCLC from Akron Children’s Hospital, and to Elizabeth Studer from The Breastfeeding Center in Massillon to learn more about how these Akron-area groups are supporting moms.

Many of us begin our journey of seeking support at a breastfeeding support group, but not every mom chooses to or is able to nurse. That’s OK if you’re a mom who visits the Akron Children’s Hospital. 

According to Maseth, who runs the breastfeeding support group at Akron Children’s, the mothers in her group requested a change in the name of the group to make sure all moms felt welcome.

“We’ve had moms come who either couldn’t breastfeed or chose not to, but are looking for support,” Maseth said. “We can support any new mom in developing parenting skills.”

The moms at Akron Children’s requested the group be called a “Mom’s Group” rather than a more breastfeeding-centric name. “I don’t want to shame any mom if they’ve made a different feeding choice. My group is not about shaming,” Maseth said.

A typical breastfeeding support group meeting at Children’s begins with moms weighing their babies, feeding their babies with assistance and advice from board-certified lactation consultants, and weighing them again to see how much milk they are transferring.

If you’re a first-time pregnant mom (or dad) reading this, you may wonder about the weigh-feed-weigh practice.

Because you cannot pre-measure the milk for your child during nursing, there’s no way to tell how much your baby is taking in. You are told to use hunger cues, wet and dirty diapers, weight gain, and a variety of methods to ensure your baby is eating enough.

This is mind-blowingly stressful the first time around. At least it was for me. Waiting for the baby’s weight to change or trying to interpret which cry is coming out right now can be difficult and/or impossible.

Weighing the baby before and after group time (or an appointment with my lactation specialist) was a genuine lifesaver. That’s why I drove the baby around so much to get to mine.

As Maseth mentioned, lactation consultants at Akron Children’s Hospital also help parents develop parenting skills and discuss their needs and difficulties outside of nursing as well.

Of course, most breastfeeding groups are not meeting during the pandemic. At Akron Children’s Hospital, they are providing both face-to-face and telehealth visits for moms who still need nursing support. 

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Maseth also stressed that there are many breastfeeding support groups in the area that families can turn to. “Any of my colleagues here in the Akron or Cleveland area, we support moms in breastfeeding and parenting skills,” she said.

One such colleague is Elizabeth ‘Betsy’ Studer, RN, APRN, IBCLC, founder of The Breastfeeding Center in Massillon.

Studer encourages women to visit breastfeeding-based groups both in-person (after the pandemic is over), and virtually, especially when it’s their first time nursing.

“When you’re a first-time mom, maybe none of your friends are having babies and you feel isolated,” Studer said. “By having our weekly groups, they get to go and hang out with a bunch of nice moms once per week.”

According to the center’s website, “After the birth of her third child in 1987, [Studer] realized that support for breastfeeding mothers did not exist in the hospital and was limited in the community.  At that time she began counseling breastfeeding mothers and in 1987 became a board-certified lactation consultant and taught the first breastfeeding class in Stark County at Aultman Hospital.”

After working out of her home for 19 years, Studer purchased a commercially zoned home in Massillon and began to build the center. Now, the center has a multitude of offerings for moms. She says formula feeding moms are also welcome.

“Moms can come anytime they want,” Studer says, describing their Mama Chat Groups. “We have a room with a digital scale and we have a room with socially distanced chairs, and usually there are only one or two moms. It’s just a completely free way for moms to come in, weigh their baby, feed them, and weigh again.”

But it’s not just nursing moms who attend Mama Chat Groups.

“Sometimes we have formula-feeding moms who have low weight babies come in to weigh them too,” she said. She welcomes all moms of babies and toddlers into the shop. 

The center has a group for moms and babies, a group for moms, babies and toddlers, and a group for working moms. The groups are on hold right now due to COVID-19, but Studer can’t wait until they return.

“I really miss the groups because they allow moms to bond with other women who are in the same circumstances,” Studer says. “Every six, seven, eight months we have a whole group that becomes best friends and creates their own mom’s group. We are the starter seed for their future relationships with these mothers.”

The Breastfeeding Center also offers self-pay private and semi-private visits with Studer as well as courses in breastfeeding and cloth diapering. “I’m very passionate about cloth diapering,” she says. “I cloth diapered all four of my children.”

Their location also has the only “breastfeeding” store I have ever seen short of the aisle at Babies ‘R Us (before it closed). What, you ask, might one find in a breastfeeding-based store? The list was too long for this article, but I’ll give a quick overview.

My favorite inclusion on the list is the LaVie Lactation massager for working out blockages. I did not know that product existed, and if I ever have another child, I plan to make use of that knowledge.

The shop does free nursing bra fittings and offers several brands including more than 16 styles of bras by Bravado, Medela, Elomi, Goddess and Glamourmom.

As a mom who needed a plus-size nursing bra (good luck at the mall), I see some familiar brands I would have loved to try on in-person before buying.

Clerks are also trained to help moms with babywearing solutions. This is another service that I’m sure hundreds of Akron-area moms would jump on in a heartbeat if they knew it existed.

If you’ve ever shopped for a baby carrier or babywearing wrap (especially online), you know how intimidating it can be, and how it can be hard to know what will work with your body. I may or may not have three separate carriers lying around.

I fully plan to visit the shop if I ever need another baby carrier.

On top of that, the store offers premium boutique infant clothing and blanket brands, bling bows, cloth diapers, baltic amber (and fittings of that as well), nursing pillows, Galactologues, Boobie Body shakes, a variety of nursing teas, breast pumps (to rent and buy), breast pump parts and compatible bottles, Haakas, menstrual cups and more.

A lot more. It’s a breastfeeding goodie oasis.

The Breastfeeding Center has two private groups for Northeast Ohio moms on Facebook, a general mama chat and one for working moms. Both groups have a number of moms ready connect and support other moms.

“We have almost 11,000 moms in the group and there’s a lot of good conversation that goes on,” she said, speaking of the Mama Chat. “It is a way to have a connection to other breastfeeding mothers.”

As per the previous SOS piece on Facebook support groups, I asked Studer about the group’s moderation. She confirmed that she and the other moderators run a tight ship.

“Because we’re a breastfeeding group, there are certain things I don’t allow,” Studer said. She explained that some controversial issues can lead to hurtful comments, and those comments aren’t tolerated in the group. Everyone is encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas respectfully.

So, if you are a new mom, or a soon-to-be new mom, looking for a safe, well-moderated space to get breastfeeding support online, you can visit The Breastfeeding Center Mama Chat Facebook Group or The Breastfeeding Center Working Mama Chat Facebook Group.

In fact, if you’re a new mom with any number of littles, or soon-to-be mom, during this pandemic, please reach out. The nursing journey is so much better with a village.

A brief list of groups and resources in Akron:

Akron-Area Breastfeeding Support Groups:

Many of these support groups are currently meeting outpatient or virtually only (rather than in groups), while some are still meeting with precautions. Please call to find out what is currently available as of November 2020.

Akron Children’s Hospital

Mom’s group for lactation and new mother support, as well as COVID-19-safe individual offerings. Contact Liz Maseth at 330-543-4531 for outpatient services.

The Breastfeeding Center

Features a variety of services including free weight checks, free bra fittings, nursing classes, cloth diapering classes, a shop with many baby and breastfeeding products including scale and pump rentals, and semi-private and private consultations. Some services on hold due to COVID-19 (call for updates). Self-pay, though some clients are able to submit reimbursement requests through their insurance. 

Call (330) 837-0220 or e-mail

Summa Health System – Akron Campus

Monday and Friday, 12:30 – 1:00 p.m. 

141 N Forge, H Tower Conference Center, Ground Floor

Parking: Available in the Main Deck; please bring parking stub to group for validation.

Pre-registration is required for safety, call 330-375-4271. 

Summa Health System – Barberton Campus

Thursday, 1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

201 Fifth Street NE, Suite 13, Barberton

Parking: Available in the deck next to the medical building (across the street from the hospital); please bring parking stub to group for validation.

Call 330-615-3710 with questions.

Julie is a mother of three and Professor of Practice at The University of Akron. Her hobbies include singing in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, Instagramming her kids and sleeping standing up.

Featured photo: used with permission from Betsy Studer