Success Story: Seneca Nation Health System
“We have experienced historical and intergenerational trauma in our communities, so it’s not uncommon to have a new mom whose mother or grandmother has never breastfed,” says Shaela Maybee, Community Health Supervisor at Seneca Nation Health System. The U.S. federal government played a leading role in the disruption of Native American families in the late 18th and early 19th century, including forced relocation, assimilation, and Indian residential schools (where the mission was to “kill the Indian, save the man”). As a result of this history, and ongoing efforts challenging tribal sovereignty, Maybee says, “We have generations of parents who haven’t been able to practice attachment parenting or breastfeeding.” Today, the historical trauma continues to inform national rates of breastfeeding, which are far lower for women of color—including Native American women—than for white mothers. Seneca Nation Health System’s new prenatal program and breastfeeding initiative are powerful examples of how one organization is addressing disparities in breastfeeding in their local community by promoting Indigenous practices, increasing lactation support in hospitals, celebrating breastfeeding moms, and providing private lactation spaces.
Set up an infrastructure to support breastfeeding
The leaders at Seneca Nation Health System committed to investing in specific tactics that would help normalize breastfeeding and boost rates in their community. The first step was to make sure new moms had access to education about—as well as hands-on support for—breastfeeding during their prenatal care. With the help of a subgrant from United South and Eastern Tribes, Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country, they were able train twenty lactation consultants in their community, host an Indigenous breastfeeding counselor training, and research options for lactation spaces that would provide moms with a private space to pump or nurse.
Make breastfeeding support visual
At first, the plan was to convert existing rooms into lactation spaces. While having a dedicated physical space was important, so too was conveying their key message: that breastfeeding was encouraged and supported. When Maybee saw the Mamava pods with their cheerful custom graphics in Atlanta Airport, she knew the pods could not only be a private space for pumping or nursing moms, but that they would also be a display space to promote positive images of breastfeeding. “We want people to smile when they see the pods and say, ‘Oh my goodness, look at that!’” says Maybee. “We wanted lactation spaces that make a strong statement of support for breastfeeding!” The freestanding Mamava pod gives Seneca Nation Health System a way to support new moms with a clean, serene space for pumping or nursing, while also providing a visual platform to celebrate breastfeeding.
Shine a spotlight on your community
Seneca Nation Health System created graphics for their Mamava pod that have cultural and local significance for moms in their community, and thus help the pod serve as a transitional space for reintroducing breastfeeding back into their culture. Maybee and her team scheduled a photoshoot with a local photographer and six breastfeeding moms from the Seneca Nation. The inside of the pod shows a photograph of a baby belly with traditional moccasins. The side panels are decorated with Seneca Nation imagery of sky domes (which is connected to important origin stories). And featured prominently on the front of the pod are the portraits of local mothers wrapped in Pendleton blankets breastfeeding their babies. “When you look at the pod, not only do you see a mother breastfeeding her baby,” says Maybee. “You see that it’s a community member.”
Seneca Nation Health System placed the Mamava pod in the patient waiting area of the Lionel R. John Health Center and has plans for more pods in other areas soon. Maybee says that the Mamava pod is an important way for them to give new moms options that suit their individual needs, many of whom are the first in their families to breastfeed. “Do you need to pump? Do you prefer privacy for breastfeeding? Do you have your toddler with you and want a place to keep them safe? Now we have a space for that.”