November RichmondMom with a Mission: Leslie Lytle

“All those cliches—those things you hear about having a baby and motherhood—all of them are true. And all of them are the most beautiful things you will ever experience.”
—Penelope Cruz, Mother and Actress

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

How best to ensure the life-changing transition to motherhood is a happy and healthy one for new parents-to-be?

Meet this month’s RichmondMom committed to that very mission, Leslie Lytle of NurtureRVA!

LeslieLytle2[Photo: Beth Furgurson]

RichmondMom Cheryl:
What is your official title/role within Nurture?

Nurture’s Leslie:
I am the founder and Executive Director of Nurture, an emerging nonprofit whose mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of childbearing families through fitness, education, social support, and community engagement.

What were the catalysts that made you decide YOU personally needed to take action?

As a long-time prenatal yoga instructor, doula, and childbirth educator, it was hearing my students’ struggles to find accurate information, resources, and support that inspired me to consider a central resource center focused on childbearing women and families. I was also deeply influenced by observing the connections my students were making in class – there is a horizontal learning that takes place when you bring together individuals who are going through a similar life journey and encourage them to explore their common experience. Science indicates that when we have meaningful social connections, easy access to resources, and the ability to make informed decisions about our health and wellbeing, we have better health outcomes. This is particularly important during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum because the health of mothers and babies are intimately interconnected. What happens during this period has significant and impact on the short and long term health of both. As our bodies and brains are re-tooled physically, emotionally, and socially for parenthood, we have an incredible opportunity to consciously shape our habits and relationships in a positive direction.

Childbearing families face many challenges. Our national Cesarean rate, at 32.8%, is significantly higher than the 10 – 15% recommended by the World Health Organization, which is the point at which harms begin to outweigh benefits. Between 10 and 20% of new mothers will show signs of postpartum mood disorders. In the Richmond Metro Area, that means as many as 2400 of the 12,000 women who give birth each year—yet locally we have very few therapists trained in reproductive mental health, and it is not easy to identify those who are. Breastfeeding is one of the effective preventive measures a woman can take to protect the health of baby and herself, yet many women face significant cultural and logistical obstacles that prevent them from reaching their breastfeeding goals. While 75% of mothers initiate breastfeeding at birth, only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed by six months. These statistics are significantly lower for our African American population.

The challenges faced by childbearing families are more similar than they are different, though different cultural groups and income levels will have specific needs. I wanted to level the playing field, so that all families have access to resources they need to have the best possible start.

Please tell us a bit about what you do with Nurture.

Right now, as Executive Director of an emerging nonprofit with a small annual budget, I do a lot of juggling – alternately managing outreach, program development, marketing, team-building, and administrative tasks. It’s akin to being the mother of a very active two-year old! I am currently focused on recruiting exceptional volunteer talent on our committees and board to help guide Nurture toward becoming a nationally known organization for improving the health and wellbeing of childbearing families at the local level.

What is the goal of the organization?

Our mission is to improve the health and wellbeing through fitness, education, social support, and community engagement – what we refer to as our four pillars (here’s a brief video that outlines our vision). We chose these pillars carefully. Women who exercise regularly throughout pregnancy gain less weight, experience shorter labors, require fewer medical interventions, have easier postpartum recoveries, and a more positive self-image. Evidence-based education supports women’s capacity to make informed decisions about their maternity related care. Social support programming such as breastfeeding and specifically focused prenatal and postpartum support groups are also integral to our vision. Under our community engagement pillar, we hope to inspire positive change through professional development programming and public education campaigns that raise awareness of the importance of community support for breastfeeding, evidence-based care, and reproductive mental health.

What has been accomplished so far?

On a completely volunteer basis, we have held two professional development programs that received rave reviews from participants – our first focused on perinatal loss, and the second on the impact of childbirth trauma on women and care providers. This year we offered over 90 donation-based prenatal and postnatal yoga classes through a partnership with Project Yoga Richmond. And we have provided technical and social media support to Richmond Healthy Start’s initiatives to raise awareness of the importance of breastfeeding: the Big Latch On in 2013, and RVA Latches On! in 2014.

What makes you proudest personally about your affiliation with the group?

It is thrilling to work with people who are passionate about improving the local environment for pregnancy, birth, and early parenting. I love the dialogue that takes place within our board and committees, the conversations with people whose lives have been positively influenced as a result of participating in our programs, and the discussion of potential future collaborations with other maternal/child health organization that are beginning to happen. Even as young as we are as an organization, I feel we’re already having a ripple effect.

What’s next on-deck?

Our biggest goal is to find a home for Nurture and a haven for the families we serve. We need a minimum of $100,000 to be able to consider a 2000 – 2500 square foot space in the city to serve as our central location. With a space of our own, we can grow our programming from ninety to hundreds of classes per year, including not just prenatal yoga, but childbirth education classes, postpartum support groups, breastfeeding assistance and more. Raising the funds to create this space is top on our agenda. This year we’re also working to create a “virtual” center on our website – a one-stop portal for finding existing resources in the community.

How can others get involved?

Visit our website and click on the “Help Us Grow” link, and send us a message as to your expertise, interest, and how you’d like to be involved. There is a list on that page of our current volunteer priorities.

And we always welcome donations, which are tax-deductible.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

My husband is my biggest supporter and constantly tells me how proud he is of the work I’m doing. I could not what I do without his support, as it has required time away from income producing activities. My eighteen year-old son, whose birth in many ways was the catalyst for my focus on maternal/child health – thinks I’m doing “really important work.”

LeslieLytle1[Photo: Beth Furgurson]

Please feel free to share additional info you’d like to share with the RichmondMom readership!

I believe Richmond, with its cultural history and diversity, size, artistic talent, vibrant nonprofit community, and especially its cadre of socially engaged and extremely talented moms, is uniquely positioned to put itself on the map as a mother-and-baby-friendly city that truly supports the health of its newest families. Our children are precious. What a legacy we would leave if we work to transcend race and cultural divisions to help them get off to the best possible start.

You can find NurtureRVA…

On Facebook

On Twitter @NurtureRVA

On Instagram

Leslie, thank you so much for your commitment to nurturing Richmond’s newest families…and for being a RichmondMom with a mission!