“Reading books is great,” says new mother Kayleigh Idemoto, “but being able to talk with an experienced mom who was the group leader, and also having that community of other new moms giving me support and telling me I wasn’t alone was why I loved Piko Pals.”
Piko Pals is a parent support group and one of many programs developed by the nonprofit, Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition of Hawaii. Piko means bellybutton in Hawaiian.
“My daughter Cassie is my first child, so I needed that support during the transition,” explains Idemoto, a 32-year-old paralegal from Mililani. “When you’re a new mom you’re so frazzled, so learning about specific topics like sleeping and breastfeeding really helped me cope. Everyone had tips on specific things to
try at home.”
The 12-week class provided her with many resources, Idemoto says, and she feels she would’ve been lost without it.
“I would’ve been Googling a lot. My parents are kind of old, so I found it more helpful to talk to more recent moms,” Idemoto quips.
Piko Pals is so popular that it may be expanded statewide, says Lisa Kimura, executive director of Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies and a mother of three young children.
“We work closely with birthing hospitals, community health centers, other nonprofits, the Department of Health and home health visitors. A big focus for us is to reach all women throughout the state, and to make sure that women – regardless of which island they live on – will have equitable access to services.”
HMHB has many programs. It operates “Hawaii Cribs for Kids” with 20 partners on the six main islands to teach low-income, high-risk pregnant women and their families about creating safe sleep environments for their babies. Each qualified family receives a free travel crib so their child has a safe place to sleep.
“People are very surprised to learn that sleep-related deaths are the most common cause of infant mortality,” Kimura says.
“Text4baby” sends weekly text messages to parents and grandparents to alert or remind them of what to expect during pregnancy and their child’s first year.
Twice a year, the nonprofit convenes the Perinatal Advocacy Network – a statewide video conference in which topics such as midwifery access on the Neighbor Islands, breastfeeding support and substance abuse are discussed.
“The PAN also gives us a way to disseminate information on legislative advocacy,” says Kimura. “In the past 10 years, HMHB has grown into an advocate role. We support bills that promote infant health, especially paid family leave.”
The 26-year-old agency’s annual budget is around $300,000, with about half coming from state grants.
“We’d like to increase our support from individuals and corporations with an interest in maternal health,” Kimura says. “Although we don’t receive any federal funding, everything’s connected, so we’re somewhat worried about cuts to the federal budget.
“For young moms – or even older moms – who don’t have any other friends with babies, becoming a parent can be a very isolating experience. In all the variety of ways in which we reach out to moms, we just want them to know that they’re not alone.”