MomsFirst 2016 Baby Buggy Walk

In honor of National Infant Mortality Awareness Month, MomsFirst hosted the 2016 Baby Buggy Walk at Zelma George Recreation Center. Approximately 200 people were in attendance for educational sessions, skating, a resource fair, lunch and the Baby Buggy Walk. Information on health, breastfeeding and safe sleep was provided, as well as helpful information from a variety of community organizations. A delicious lunch was provided and prizes were raffled off.

 MomsFirst Community Health Worker Shenetta Clemis with the son of one of her participants representing the MomsFirst informational table.

MomsFirst Community Health Worker Shenetta Clemis with the son of one of her participants representing the MomsFirst informational table.

Raising awareness about infant mortality is central to the purpose of the event and the work of MomsFirst. T-shirts were provided to all attendees with the hope of serving as a conversation starter about saving our babies and the work of MomsFirst. If you, or someone you know, is pregnant and living in Cleveland, contact MomsFirst (216-664-4194).

 The Baby Buggy Walk

The Baby Buggy Walk

 Thank you to the Cleveland Kids' Book Bank for providing free books to give away.

Thank you to the Cleveland Kids' Book Bank for providing free books to give away.

 A MomsFirst family proudly displaying their Baby Buggy Walk t-shirts.

A MomsFirst family proudly displaying their Baby Buggy Walk t-shirts.

 A raffle prize winner

A raffle prize winner

My Universal Medicine and the Support that Changed My Life

In honor of Black Breastfeeding Week (August 25-31), MomsFirst is proud to introduce you to a participant that has gone above and beyond for her daughter.

Rayleenah Saleem is an extraordinary mom.  With a glowing smile, Rayleenah tells the story of how the birth of her daughter changed her life. As a sophomore in high school, Rayleenah found herself pregnant. Faced with the decision keeping her baby, she decided to follow through with the pregnancy even with fear creeping inside her. “It was worth it even though my life would have been easier without her. I was doing a lot of things I wasn’t supposed to do. She changed me for the better. It is a blessing in disguise.” she said.

Not only is Rayleenah a mom, but she also managed to earn her GED, she works from home and has been breastfeeding her 22 month old daughter Noureyah since she was born. After being referred to MomsFirst by a friend, Rayleenah found the benefits of the program to exceed her expectations. Getting one on one support from her Community Health Worker, Jennifer Reuter from MomsFirst's Adolescent Component at the May Dugan Center, has proven to be a wonderful experience.  “I felt very proud of how strong she was and adamant she was when it came to giving her child only breastmilk,” said Reuter.

The relationship that Community Health Workers like Jennifer build with women make it easier for them to open up and feel empowered to take charge of their health. “I tell her things that I feel like she has more experience in. I am definitely trusting of her, I love her.” said Rayleenah.

For many moms, getting the support they need from people they can trust is difficult. The MomsFirst team works hard to build trusting relationships to provide this support. For breastfeeding mothers like Rayleenah this support makes the choice to breastfeed much easier. “I had no other option. I’ve seen my mother and sisters breastfeed. It came naturally. I was breastfed by my mother for two years.” said Rayleenah. Even though Rayleenah was educated by hospital staff about breastfeeding, she still had strong support from her mother. “There is nothing that they could tell me that I didn’t already know. My mother told me everything. She was really my backbone.” she stated.

Breastfeeding is a rewarding experience but it does not come without challenges. Jennifer is proud of Rayleenah for her dedication. “Breastfeeding is a hard challenge for anyone but especially for a teenager trying to balance everything in life with breastfeeding”, said Reuter.  Some challenges moms may encounter include breastfeeding in public, balancing breastfeeding while working, deciding when the time is right to discontinue breastfeeding and practicing self-care.

 Noureyah with her mom, Rayleenah

Noureyah with her mom, Rayleenah

A lack of acceptance often makes breastfeeding in public uncomfortable.  Despite some progress, breastfeeding in public is still not completely normalized. “People are going to give you dirty looks. One time a man looked at me like he was disgusted and another time a lady told me there is a place where you can do that, but if my child is hungry, I am feeding her.” said Rayleenah.

Keeping the best interest of Noureyah in mind has helped Rayleenah persevere. She also encourages moms to have a conversation with their baby and set a goal. “You have to tell them. She knows what I am saying when I tell her it’s not going to be too much longer. My goal is to stop breastfeeding by the time she is two”, she stated. Having a strong support system helps make these goals more attainable. When Noureyah was 10 months old, Rayleenah started balancing work and home life.  Rayleenah says although she works from home she still needs a babysitter. She is grateful to have her nephew help out.

While Rayleenah emphasizes that breastfeeding is not for everyone, she believes if the good outweighs the bad, you should go for it. “I definitely know it is the best thing for her.  She is a genius.  She knows her ABCs, she can count, and she knows all of her body parts. At one point she had really bad eczema.  Nothing worked until I put breastmilk on her skin.” she stated. Rayleenah believes more women would choose breastfeeding if they knew more about it and knew it was best for their baby. She said, “Breast milk is a universal medicine”.

These are just some of the benefits that have made breastfeeding a rewarding experience for Rayleenah and Noureyah. Now that Rayleenah has developed a routine, she is making sure to remember that her needs matter too. As a working mom, Rayleenah understands all too well how easy it can be to forget about yourself. “Setting goals for yourself is the key to happiness. Even if it’s just waking up ten minutes earlier so that you can eat, you feel good about yourself when you do it.” said Rayleenah.

Rayleenah wants all moms to remember that their dreams can still come true. In light of this, she has high hopes for her future. Even though motherhood has taken up much of her time, she still has a vision for her life and a positive perspective. Rayleenah says, “In the future, I will still be able to do the things that I want to do. I could go to college and live on campus. I thought about teaching and I love science. Isaac Newton is my idol so I think about majoring in higher education science.”

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”- Isaac Newton.



Welcoming Nursing Moms Back to Work

What better way to welcome a mother back to work than supporting her during her breastfeeding journey? Make mom feel welcomed by reducing the stress that comes with meeting her baby’s needs while working. According to research, mothers are 2.5 times more likely to breastfeed where breastfeeding is protected, promoted and supported. Working mothers have a lot on their plate. Often times they are trying to juggle various responsibilities at once. How can we be sure to support moms in the workplace? One way is to educate ourselves on how the needs of nursing moms can be met in the workplace. Nursing mothers will need a safe place to pump.  Reasonable accommodations can be made  by providing:




Federal law ensures that women have basic accommodations during the working period including reasonable time to express milk during the work day and private space that is not a bathroom.  Since there are many benefits to accommodating nursing mothers, it would be efficient to incorporate breast feeding friendly ideas into workplace policy. Motherhood nurtures many new skills such as organization, time management, the ability to multitask and engineer creative ideas. These are skills that employers value. Supporting nursing mothers can prove to be lucrative for business, producing results such as lower absenteeism rates, higher retention rates, lower healthcare costs and insurance claims, higher productivity and loyalty among workers.

For more information on creating a breastfeeding friendly workplace, visit

Breastfeeding: Making the Decision

Are you looking to start breastfeeding and not sure if it is right for you? Maybe you are concerned with possible challenges. Let’s see if we can answer some of your questions.

Why should I breastfeed my baby?

Breastfeeding is a rewarding experience that can help you and your baby be healthier.  The antibodies in breast milk help protect your baby from germs and illnesses. Breast milk is nutritious, easy to digest and fights disease.

How long do I need to breastfeed and how often?

For the first six months of life, infants should drink only breastmilk. It is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, that you breastfeed for at least 12 months and as long as you and your baby would like. Your breastfed newborn will eat approximately every 1.5-3 hours.

How do I prepare for breastfeeding?                                                                                                                                    

Before your baby is born, try to learn as much as possible. Be sure to check in regularly with your doctor, ask questions and read books on breastfeeding. Your local library is a great resource for free materials.  Involve your partner, family and friends in your breastfeeding plan to gain as much support as possible.

What if I have a hard time breastfeeding when I return to work?

Don’t worry; you are not the only one. Before returning to work, discuss with your employer accommodations that can be made for breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. The U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide time to pump at work in a private place that is not a bathroom.

What if I don’t have family support? Who can help me?

MomsFirst is a great resource to learn more about breastfeeding. A Community Health Worker is a knowledgeable source of support for you and your baby. Don’t have an OB/GYN? Visit our MomsFirst website to find a prenatal care doctor near you.  Need support while on the go? Visit  and download the Text4Baby app to get free text messages to keep you and your baby healthy.

Breastfeeding is a personal choice. As you become aware of the benefits of breastfeeding be sure to make a choice based upon what is best for you and your family. While we advocate for breastfeeding, we are here to support you no matter what decision you make!

Breastfeeding Empowers Communities and Families

Celebrating National Breastfeeding Month

How to feed a baby should not be a worry for any mother. With high rates of poverty in this country, it is important that women and children have available resources to reduce disparities within our communities. Fortunately, breast milk is a valuable asset that can reduce expenses for families. Breast milk is a resource available to women of all socioeconomic statuses. Here at MomsFirst, we are committed to ensuring that women living in the City of Cleveland have the support they need during this rewarding, and sometimes challenging, experience. Studies show that mothers are 2.5 times more likely to breastfeed where breastfeeding is protected, promoted and supported.  Educating the community on the benefits of breastfeeding is one way to provide this support.

Breastfeeding is beneficial for both mom and baby. Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of obesity, type II diabetes, breast cancer, and postpartum depression.  Even when babies are preterm, breastfeeding can lead to positive outcomes. Breastfeeding within the first 28 days of life for preterm babies is associated with better brain development. According to a new study published in The Journal of Pediatrics, “babies who were fed more breast milk within the first 28 days of life had larger volumes of certain regions of the brain at term equivalent and had better IQ’s, academic achievement, working memory and motor function.”  All breastfed babies have decreased diarrhea, fewer respiratory tract infections, fewer allergies, and less risk of obesity and diabetes. 

Society as a whole also benefits. According to the Maternal Health Taskforce, “since breast milk is a natural, renewable food source that does not require packaging or distribution, breastfeeding is beneficial for the environment.” Cheering one mother on, has the power to impact an entire generation.  What affects one person has the power to impact the greater community.  Healthy children and adults are more likely to be productive members of their communities.

As we celebrate National Breastfeeding Month, let’s take a look at more ways we can collectively ensure that women within our families and communities have the support needed to stay encouraged during their breastfeeding journey.

  • Positive reinforcement- be sure to let mom know she is doing a great job

  • Offering to help- help out with daily tasks such as errands and household chores

  • Providing resources- Let mom know of support groups in her area  

  • Encourage rest- Remind mom to take time for herself as needed

For more information on how MomsFirst supports breastfeeding mothers, visit

25 Years of Healthy Start

The United States has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the developed world. Of every 1,000 babies, 6 die before turning one year old. Our rates of low birth weight, preterm birth, and maternal mortality are also unacceptably high. There is also a persistent racial disparity in these rates. Black babies are dying at 2-3 times the rate of white babies. In 1991, Healthy Start was established to reduce the disparity. Cleveland's MomsFirst program has established as one of the original Healthy Start projects 25 years ago. Over the years, there have been many changes, but our mission to help our community's most vulnerable has remained the same. Healthy Start is...

Cleveland Regional Perinatal Network

MomsFirst and the Cleveland Regional Perinatal Network (CRPN) partnered years ago to assist pregnant and postpartum women with screening and referral for perinatal depression. The linkages made for participants by their MomsFirst Community Health Workers through a carepath developed by CRPN are crucial to accessing needed counseling services.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) published an article, "Seizing New Policy Opportunities to Help Low-Income Mothers with Depression: Current Landscape, Innovations, and Next Steps" in June, 2016, which references the work of CRPN and MomsFirst. To read the article, click here (see page 17).

To learn more about CRPN, click here.

Healthy Start Reauthorization Act of 2016

MomsFirst is primarily funded by the Federal Healthy Start Initiative, a project of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. Healthy Start is essential in helping our community's most disadvantaged children survive infancy and live longer, more productive lives. MomsFirst is among 100 projects across the country striving to achieve the goal of reducing the racial disparity in infant mortality rates. Healthy Start has a proven track record of saving lives, achieving a project infant mortality rate of 4.3 (in 2014), which is well below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 6.0.

On May 26, 2016, Congressmen Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Evan Jenkins (R-West Virginia)introduced a bill to reauthorize funding of Healthy Start through the year 2022. The findings in the bill indicate that American taxpayers spend $28 billion annually on medical expenses for premature babies. The work of Healthy Start helps to reduce those costs. To read the bill in its entirety, click here:

You can contact your representatives and urge them to support this bill that helps our community's most vulnerable families. You can also contact the committee members responsible for the bill by visiting: