By Amanda Bedortha | Published April 2018

Newborns, swaddled like burritos in their blankets, snuggle up with their moms. Dads proudly cradle their infants, swaying side to side in that instinctual way all we all do when holding a baby. These are sights you’ll see in the atrium at Parenting Now! (PN!) on a Wednesday morning.

From 11 am to 12:30 pm, the nonprofit hosts Baby Connection, a chance for parents to connect with lactation consultants and parenting educators, as well as other parents. It’s a safe and nurturing place for parents to gush over gas smiles and coos, and lament over sleepless nights and the unbearable pain of mastitis. “Each session I have four to five volunteers and myself,” says Baby Connection coordinator Debbie Jensen. “I am committed to having a credentialed feeding specialist at each session to be the expert resource for families. There are two other local IBCLC-credentialed lactation consultants that volunteer their time.” Baby Connection also offers crucial information to new parents: their baby’s weight. As a volunteer places the baby on the scale, parents can confirm that their baby is growing at a healthy rate.

Baby Connection is just one of many programs that PN! provides to the community. For 40 years, PN! (formerly known as Birth To Three) has created ways for parents to build their support system. Parenting, especially for first-time parents, can be isolating and lonely—even when you’re never really alone. Being home with a newborn, cycling through the routine of feeding, burping, diaper changes, and naps can make it challenging for parents to leave their house and connect with the rest of the world.

It was with this in mind that Birth To Three was formed in 1978. Minalee Saks was a trained educator and had always wanted children, but she was surprised by how isolated she felt after the birth of her son. Two women from the University of Oregon approached Saks about participating in an infant study. The trio immediately connected. Together, they started Birth To Three—a program designed to connect parents and offer support and encouragement.

In the early days, groups were hosted in family homes, led by a parent educator. Parents chatted as their infants were rocked or fed, and toddlers played with toys, requested snuggles, and munched on snacks.

Much has changed since those early years, including the move into an atrium-style building on Centennial Loop, a name change, and an increase in services and curriculum.

Today, PN! offers a multitude of groups that focus on positive parenting led by professional parenting educators: Incredible INFANTs, Wonderful ONEs, Terrific TWOs, Thrilling THREEs, Young Parents Program (for parents under age 21), Crecer (for Spanish-speaking families), and Make Parenting A Pleasure (MPAP) (for parents dealing with high levels of stress).

Parenting educator Anita Huffman likes to start her MPAP group by holding a glass of water. “You start your day with a glass of water,” she explains. “As the day progresses, you take small sips. Eventually those small sips result in an empty cup. Now the question is: How do you replenish it?” MPAP and all of PN!’s programs focus on self-care: Like the empty glass, how do you replenish yourself so you can successfully care for yourself and your child?

“PN! groups teach families that development can look quite different from child to child and that there’s a wide range of what is typical,” says Meredith Calzia, PN!’s children’s program coordinator. “In group, families have an opportunity to share their own parenting philosophies and also hear from other families regarding different models of parenting.”

At PN!, child care is provided onsite for families attending group sessions. “Being able to leave their child for a few hours each week, knowing they’re safe and being well cared for, allows parents to get the most out of their time with us,” says Calzia.

This spring, PN! has several opportunities for the community to support their mission: a 40th Anniversary Gala on March 2; Mother’s Day 5K on May 13; and Flights & Bites at Sarver Winery on May 20. All these events support PN!’s mission of preventing child abuse.

“Because of the variety of classes we offer, families from all backgrounds and needs are met with the opportunity to learn and flourish within our community,” Calzia says.

Parenting Now! 86 Centennial Loop, Springfield, 541/484-5316, parentingnow.org