It's Good to Talk at Cafe Mama

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It's Good to Talk at Cafe Mama
Elizabeth Amias, 34, had a difficult birth with her son William, now two, and afterwards struggled to breastfeed him.

"I'd decided I wanted to breastfeed, but I couldn't at first because I was recovering from the birth, and then he got attached to feeding from a bottle," Elizabeth said. "In the end I had to give up, and expressed milk for him for 18 months. Not being able to breastfeed my baby when it meant so much to me was very distressing. I felt like I'd failed, and as if other mothers were judging me - even if they weren't."

Elizabeth was supported by a counsellor from La Leche League, the international breastfeeding organisation. She started attending meetings of her local branch, and realised she wasn't alone.

"Talking to other mums who'd been through the same thing made me feel less of a freak," she said. "I got involved in organising meetings and managing the group's library of books about breastfeeding and parenting."

As she got to know other members, Elizabeth discovered many of them had suffered similar problems to herself, while others struggled to find places to breastfeed their babies in public.

"There are a few baby cafés scattered over the country, but there was nowhere in Leicester we could breastfeed without feeling awkward or uncomfortable," Elizabeth said. "It was a problem that had been discussed at La Leche meetings for a while."

That's what gave them the idea of starting up Leicester's first breastfeeding cafe.

Elizabeth made an application to the "Big Lottery Fund's Awards for All" programme for a grant, and in November 2008 they were awarded Ł5,681. "We were delighted to get funding, but the hard work had only just begun," she said. "Finding a venue was perhaps our most important decision. We wanted somewhere clean and modern, where new mums would feel comfortable. In the end we found a light and airy church room that was ideal."

Cafe Mama opened in January 2009, and was clearly something the mums of Leicester had been waiting for - more than 50 people turned up to the launch, and more mums and mums-to-be get in touch all the time as word gets around.

The cafe opens every Wednesday morning, and serves free tea, coffee, biscuits and snacks.

"We didn't want anyone to feel they couldn't afford to come," Elizabeth said. "Some of the mums make cakes or dips to bring and share around. It's a very friendly atmosphere, and everyone's welcome."

The cafe also runs a lending library of parenting books, and offers support from a breastfeeding counsellor and a selection of toys. Mums bring their babies and toddlers, and even occasionally their husbands and partners as the group like to feel dads can be fully involved in their babies' first months, too.

"My husband Elliott has come along a few times," Elizabeth said. "The café is somewhere mums can breastfeed comfortably, without feeling stared at or judged. It's also somewhere they can share their experiences of breastfeeding, to get support and help each other."

Since launching Café Mama, Elizabeth has given birth to a second baby, son John, 11 weeks, and happily has been able to breastfeed him.

"I've learnt a lot from talking to other mums," she said. "Like how important it is to persevere in those early days, and to avoid bottles and dummies while you and your baby both get used to the routine. I don't know whether, if something similar had existed when I had William, I wouldn't have had the problems I did. But the café has certainly helped me gain confidence, and I'm overjoyed that this time around I can breastfeed as I always intended to."

April 2009

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