I have had the joy and privilege of helping thousands and thousands of breastfeeding mothers over my long career of being an OB nurse and Lactation Consultant. There is nothing I find more satisfying and gratifying than helping a mom and baby who have been struggling with breastfeeding and be able to watch them nurse contentedly and comfortably.
When I was in high school, I knew I wanted to be an OB nurse. During nursing school, I tried to keep an open mind going through all my rotations, but I still loved OB the best. Over the twenty years I worked in the OB GYN unit in the hospital, I was able to give good care to my GYN patients, but it did not give me the joy that working with breastfeeding moms and babies did.
My passion for breastfeeding was really intensified when I had my own three babies in the 1980’s. Back then, we did everything possible to undermine breastfeeding. Babies came out of the nursery at scheduled times to breastfeed, we gave them bottles of sugar water after nursing and were told to limit their time at the breast to two minutes the first day, five minutes the second and then up to ten minutes by day three! No one had any suggestions to help with nipple soreness, but I was too stubborn to give in and was able to nurse all three of my babies for about a year.
Experience is Everything
So many moms get the message that breastfeeding is going to be painful and they just have to deal with that for a few weeks. This is simply not true. It is a matter of getting a good comfortable latch. As a lactation consultant, I have worked with hundreds of mothers who have very sore, painful nipples and when I help her get her baby latched on correctly, it is comfortable for her. She and baby are both able to relax and have an enjoyable feeding. Breastfeeding moms spend many hours feeding their baby and this should be a comfortable, enjoyable experience for both of them.
Since babies are unable to speak for themselves, I am a strong patient advocate for them. This is an area where experience really matters. I have worked with thousands of newborns over the years which has given me experience at interpreting what they are communicating. This is especially helpful for first-time parents when this is all new for them. For example, getting newborns to latch can sometimes be a struggle for moms. Often babies will extend their arms while fussing and crying and moms think they are pushing themselves away from her breast. That could be interpreted as not being hungry, but the vast majority of the time that newborn’s fuss is because they are still hungry. In my breastfeeding classes and during lactation consultant visits, I help new parents understand what babies are communicating by teaching them hunger cues and how to deal with fussy or sleepy babies.
Doing maternal child home health visits for ten years gave me a very different perspective from taking care of newborns in the hospital. I learned what things moms were told in the hospital that caused breastfeeding difficulties after they went home. Well-meaning nurses would tell the moms to get some extra sleep over night while they took the baby to the nursery and gave them bottles of formula. Those nurses were not the ones who followed that mom and baby at home to see a tearful mom struggling to get a crying baby latched on to an engorged breast. I also learned that many moms who had very swollen feet and legs several days after being home could struggle with their milk supply. I saw the importance of having family support and successful breastfeeding to help prevent moms from going into postpartum depression.
I’ve learned things doing home health I would never have known if I only worked in the hospital. It helped me know what was important to stress in my breastfeeding classes to help moms be successful with breastfeeding. Back in the 80’s, everybody I knew was breastfeeding- my sisters, sisters-in-law and coworkers. Now when I teach my breastfeeding classes, many moms say they have never even seen a baby breastfeed. During my classes, I give them hands on practice in positioning to get a good latch and show how the dads can be involved and supportive. They also watch an excellent video where they get to see lot of babies latching on. Seeing the major role dads play to support moms made me realize how helpful it is for them to attend the breastfeeding classes and lactation consultations.
There have been many changes over the years in my career. I never thought insurance would pay for breastpumps and visits with a lactation consultant. Those changes have been so important to help moms be more successful at breastfeeding. Preemies in the NICU getting donor milk instead of formula is a huge stride in improving their outcomes. It has been a wonderful change in standard of care to see babies doing skin to skin immediately after birth. I am so jealous that I did not get to do that after my deliveries!
Lactation Consultant: It’s a Calling
I have been on this breastfeeding journey for over forty years now from working in the hospital, having my own babies, doing home health and being in private practice as a lactation consultant. There is no other job out there I would rather do than help moms and babies be successful with breastfeeding. Being a lactation consultant is a profession where experience truly matters. It helps the moms, the babies, their family and our entire communities. It is my promise to every mom who comes to see me that I will use my years of experience working with thousands of babies to give her lots of suggestions to help her no matter what her issues or concerns are with breastfeeding her baby.
Now I have the joy and fun of working with my children as they have my grandbabies. My children are finally appreciating what their mom does for a living, much more so than when they were in middle school!