By Paula Clay
My experience at Santa Maria Hostel over the past year has given me much joy, and this “seed grant” has
definitely grown and borne fruit. It has been the source of so many wonderful encounters. As always in
LLL, frugality reigned in my decisions and I stretched the grant as far as possible.
My first expense was to purchase ten copies of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Instead of ordering
online, I went to a local, independent bookstore. When I told the manager what I wanted and what it was
for, he gave me a significant discount and his card telling me to let him know if I needed anything. He was
obviously sincere and there was nothing untoward about his words. I plan to make contact with him
again soon in regards to the Texas Area Network LLL conference, which will be in Houston next spring!
Plans Can Change
I originally planned to spend most of the grant on ring slings for the mothers, to keep their babies close.
The fruit of this grant was that my contact at Santa Maria Hostel told me not to use my money for slings,
that she had money in the budget and would buy them for me.
Alas, there were mishaps with purchasing and the wrong type of baby carrier has been ordered twice
and we are still trying to sort this out. I used the last bit of the grant to purchase six slings, and I expect
we will get more in the near future.I also purchased dolls for the moms to use to practice with the slings.
I purchased breast-shaped stress balls to teach hand expression. The mothers laugh as they play with
them, and the balls were more economical than breast models sold by the health education suppliers.
I created my own Benefits of Breastfeeding Box with gadgets that reflect a benefit. Some examples are
the pretty box containing the items, because “Breast milk comes in a pretty package;” a tampon, because
“Breastfeeding delays the return of your period;” a trash bag, because “there is no waste with
breastfeeding and nothing to recycle,” etc.
I asked my contacts at Santa Maria Hostel to select their favorite original art featuring breastfeeding
mothers by Miriel Smith, a La Leche League Leader and artist. You can see her work at this website. I
ordered two copies each of five original art works and had them framed. One of each is shown in the
When I presented the art pieces, my contact at Santa Maria, Teresa Garcia, said that this might be the
most significant thing that I’ve done. I agree.The images are beautiful, and I hope they inspire all who see
them to help normalize breastfeeding.
I have primarily been working with moms in the BAMBI (Baby and Mother Bonding Initiative), WHO (Women
Helping Ourselves) programs at Santa Maria. These moms were incarcerated and finish their
sentence with their baby at Santa Maria.
My involvement at Santa Maria is still an evolving work-in-progress. While things have not progressed
as I expected, this is not necessarily a bad thing. As I spend more time there with the moms and getting
to know the staff, I am better able to assess their needs and collaborate on effective support. I do think
my work has had a significant impact in reminding the staff and mothers of the importance of
I expected to lead meetings similar to a typical LLL series; however, most of the moms are not
breastfeeding. Instead of the often-used intro at LLL meetings of “Take what works for you and leave the
rest behind,” mine is, “Even though you are not breastfeeding, you may learn something new and be
better able to support your friends who are breastfeeding, or this might make it easier for you to
breastfeed a future baby.”
I try to make breastfeeding information relevant to those who are not breastfeeding by including
information about infant development, reading the baby’s cues, starting solids, etc. Mothering through
breastfeeding and loving guidance can be adapted for all. More than once, a new mother told me that
they were encouraged to breastfeed by one of the other mothers there and decided to continue because
of her support.
I have established very good relationships with several of the staff members in leadership roles. We
recognize our mutual good will and shared goals and are brainstorming ways to overcome the unique
barriers and challenges in supporting the moms in residence at Santa Maria who want to breastfeed.
Spreading the Word
I’ve made others in the community aware of the good work done at Santa Maria Hostel by reporting on
my efforts at INTENT meetings (the Houston-area breastfeeding coalition) and other organizations. The
University of Houston recently received a $5 Million grant targeted to certain areas in Houston,
including Santa Maria Hostel, with the highest rates of morbidity and mortality surrounding birth. While
open to anyone, they are targeting the African American community.
The grant from the Friends of La Leche League has indeed planted a seed. The seed has germinated and
fruit-bearing branches are growing. I look forward to continued involvement with Santa Maria Hostel,
and many more years of Leadership.