Baby Steps

Hawaii Mothers’ Milk serves thousands of clients a year with a part-time staff

July, 2003

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are economic benefits, not just health advantages, to breastfeeding. In a 1997 policy statement the academy says, “The significantly lower incidence of illness in the breastfed infant allows the parents more time for attention to siblings and other family duties and reduces parental absence from work and lost income. The direct economic benefits to the family are also significant.” The academy estimates that a savings of more than $400 per child for food purchases can be expected during the baby’s first year of life.

In 2000, the Federal Interagency Working Group on Women’s Health and the Environment developed the HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding, which recommends that 75 percent of new mothers breastfeed, and at least 50 percent do it for six months postpartum by the year 2010. The breastfeeding movement is getting a boost from the Advertising Council, which is scheduled to launch a three-year media campaign in August to encourage first-time parents to breastfeed.

This is going to mean a lot more “business” for Hawaii Mothers’ Milk, a private nonprofit that supports breastfeeding education and sells and rents breast pumps and parts. The agency, with two part-time employees and a $100,000 annual operating budget, is already stretched mighty thin, serving about 7,500 moms a year.

“I think [lactation consultant Joann Tokushige] talks to every single one of them,” says Hawaii Mothers’ Milk Executive Director Patricia Ane with a laugh.

Tokushige does have contact with an average of 20 people a day. Clients phone or walk into Hawaii Mothers’ Milk’s tiny offices at the Kapiolani Medical Center. A little more than half are calling into the organization’s “warm line.” They range from first-time moms, who haven’t quite gotten the hang of breastfeeding, to working moms, who have questions about returning to work.

Hawaii Mothers’ Milk used to be a milk bank. In the 1980s, donations dwindled with the heptachlor scare, combined with growing concern over hepatitis and HIV/AIDS. The organization switched its mission in the early 1990s. Today, Hawaii Mothers’ Milk Inc.’s stated purpose is to promote, encourage and advocate breastfeeding as the best source of infant nutrition, one that benefits the welfare of infants and their families.

Ane says, “When [moms] need help in nursing, if they don’t get help right away, they just give up. You have to see that mom within that day or the next day.” This makes keeping the business day between the scheduled hours of 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. challenging. Tokushige and Ane are often there hours past 2 p.m., essentially putting in close to full-time hours, although they are both only part-time workers.

Ane has a business degree and started with the office part-time, because she enjoyed working with moms. When the executive director’s position opened three years ago, she came aboard and started a silent auction as an annual fund-raiser to supplement the funding that Hawaii Mothers’ Milk receives from the Aloha United Way, private donations and grants and breast pump sales and rentals.

She says there is a widespread misconception that breastfeeding comes naturally, without any education or assistance. “Mothers just don’t have any idea of what to do,” Ane says. Besides the phone and office consultations, Tokushige educates the medical community by giving classes on breastfeeding at the University of Hawaii’s nursing school and to medical residents who are referred to Hawaii Mothers’ Milk.

Tokushige, who makes it a point to return every call to Hawaii Mothers’ Milk that same day, says, “We really like what we’re doing.”

Chimes in Ane, “And the moms are so appreciative!” Sometimes, she says, all they really need when they walk in is a hug and encouragement.

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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch