St. Catherine Hospital is moving its award-winning and oft-used breastfeeding clinic from its current office in the Medical Building to the hospital’s Maternal Child Department. The new clinic will be open to patients starting May 1.

Shawna Deal, St. Catherine’s community relations coordinator, said the clinic was moving to be closer to the rest of the hospital’s maternal care facilities, including pediatric and obstetric care and the neonatal intensive care unit. The move will improve the efficiency of the clinic, she said.

St. Catherine’s free breastfeeding clinic allows women to meet with lactation consultants to learn feeding tactics and avoid common mistakes. Patients can make appointments and attend the clinic’s prenatal classes.

Regular patients, including Cimarron resident Rebecca Koehn, said lactation consultants help women learn how to latch their babies to their breasts and weigh the infant before and after a feeding to make sure he or she was getting needed nutrients. The clinic offers private examination rooms and a communal space, where women can breastfeed and receive consultations in the same room.

For many clients, like Koehn, her sister-in-law Miranda Unruh, and fellow patients Kaitlin VanNahmen and Cassie Gonzales, the space is appreciated and much needed.

“I enjoyed the privacy, and I enjoyed the camaraderie,” Unruh said of the clinic. “I was able to get my little girl into position and to latch on just by seeing (another patient do the same) … Breastfeeding isn’t easy, and it’s nice to know you’re not alone in that situation.”

The clinic will provide all of its old services, including private and group spaces, in the new location, but be easier for patients to access, said Renee Hulett, director of Maternal Child Services at St. Catherine. She said the new space is bigger and more aesthetically-pleasing, with a mural on a wall and a play area for toddlers.

“It’s a much more friendly place…” she said. “We’re just very excited about it. Very, very excited about it. And this allows the ability for our lactation team to meet the needs of our community. It also allows them to be able to meet the needs of our patients right here in the unit, if they need it. It’s just a win-win for everyone.”

In March, the clinic helped St. Catherine become the second hospital in Kansas to earn a Baby-Friendly designation, a classification given by a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. The designation is given to hospitals that excel in care for feeding infants, skin-to-skin contact and bonding between mother and child. The clinic itself received the Gold Level “Breastfeeding Employees Support Award” from the Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition.

Last week, the clinic’s upcoming move sparked confusion among patients, some of whom believed that the facility was closing for good.

Unruh said a conversation she had with a nurse made her think the clinic’s space was being repurposed and that there was no new location. She said she was frustrated with what she saw as a lack of transparency from the hospital.

Deal said the nurse Unrue spoke with, Janet Colson, believed there had been a misunderstanding.

“I would hate for anyone to think we’re closing, because that’s not it at all,” Hulett said.

“The World Health Organization, UNICEF, all recognize that breastfeeding is the best way to feed your baby. And so we put a lot of support around that and a lot of teaching and education around it. … As much support as we can give (patients), we want to do that…” Hulett said. “I’m so excited that we have the support of this hospital to provide what we do and a lot of it continues to grow. It’s very important to support what the community needs here.”

All of the women said the clinic meant a lot to them and had been helpful as they learned to breastfeed. All, including Unruh, said as long the clinic and its services were simply moving and not closing, they would be content.

“I’m ecstatic to hear they’ve relocated and are accommodating women with multiple children,” Unruh said.

Hulett and Deal said they had not heard anything previously about patient concerns or misunderstanding. Deal said the hospital had not alerted patients of the change because the move was still in progress.

“The change hasn’t happened yet. Communication is forthcoming,” Deal said. “There’s not a lack of transparency. We’re not changing anything.”

Deal has since put up signs announcing the move in the clinic’s current location at the Medical Building and will put up flyers with similar information in other locations around the hospital this week. She said patients can make appointments at the clinic’s old location until the May 1 opening.