"It was listening to everybody's stories and realizing they're going through the same thing I'm going through. If they can do it, so can I," she said.
Ruane said mothers who attend the support groups discuss issues such as colic, daycare and their babies' weight gain. As the children have gotten older, topics have included other child-rearing issues and tips.
"We've even talked about that new shot that's out," Ruane said, referring to the meningitis and ear infection vaccine Prevnar.
Support groups such as these, conducted not only at Pioneers but at El Centro Regional Medical Center, are helping to dispel myths about breastfeeding and give the mothers a chance to share common experiences … and complaints.
On one recent Thursday, Ruane told of a pediatrician who said she would not be able to produce enough milk to breastfeed twins and that she must supplement with formula.
"I just said ‘OK,' " and kept breastfeeding the twins without help from formula, Ruane said. Both girls now top 14 pounds and are sitting up by themselves.
During one recent Pioneers support group meeting a nursing mom recalled how a local pediatrician told her to give up nursing and switch to a soy-based formula because her baby was lactose intolerant.
Believing the doctor was wrong, she placated the physician by agreeing with him but continued to breastfeed her infant, who is now a healthy toddler and not lactose intolerant.
Several other mothers at the support group said they had heard the same advice from the same doctor.
Still, according to Hale and other local breastfeeding experts, the pediatricians and other medical professionals are becoming more knowledgeable about breastfeeding, and Hale said that is vital because women depend on the advice of their doctors.
"Because the girls from support group go back to the doctor and their babies are thriving, I think the pediatricians are feeling more at ease with breastfeeding. It took us awhile. I think they were nervous in the beginning," Hale said.
Burn, who attended a recent support group meeting, said her obstetrician is supportive of breastfeeding and has a nurse in his office who is a lactation educator. Several mothers said they too had positive experiences with medical providers in the Valley regarding breastfeeding.
Hale, like other nurses and lactation educators in the Valley, believe in the importance of breastfeeding, which provides every nutrient for the rapid growth of a baby's brain and nervous system and immunity against allergies, asthma, colds and other infections.
The Pioneers support group in Brawley evolved out of meetings between Hale and Letty Goddard of Brawley, who was having trouble breastfeeding her newborn son, Brandon.
Brandon was born Dec. 22, 1999, and, like many babies, didn't automatically know how to "latch on" to his mother's breast.
"It was a nightmare," Goddard said.
Goddard kept trying and made do with putting syringes of milk into her son's mouth until a few days after Christmas, when she called Hale.
Hale spent three days a week, two hours a day for weeks with Goddard, giving support and teaching mother and son how to nurse.
"She'd help me feel it was all right … if it wasn't for April, I would have quit (nursing)," Goddard said.
A March of Dimes grant funds the support group at Pioneers, along with a Spanish-language support group, a lactation center and training at University of California, San Diego for several nurses at Pioneers, explained Maureen Rigley, a registered nurse and lactation consultant at Pioneers.
"If they came out with an immunization that would prevent horrible diseases, people would be fighting to get it. That's what breast milk is," Rigley said.
The babies involved with the support group at Pioneers range from just 5 weeks to 9 months but often include newborns when new mothers join the group in their hospital gowns.
The Spanish-language support group at Pioneers meets from 10 a.m. to noon the first and third Thursday of every month, while the English-language group meets from 10 a.m. to noon the second and fourth Thursday of every month.
El Centro Regional's support group meets in the hospital's medical plaza from 3 to 5 p.m. the first and third Thursday of every month.