"I think the most important thing for me, is that women should know that you can have a breastfeeding relationship without exclusively breastfeeding...I think people often think breastfeeding is this all or nothing proposition."
C: What made you decide to become a lactation consultant?
A: Ever since I was really little, I was really interested in pregnancy and childbirth. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I was there at the birthing center when my mom delivered my sister. I don’t really remember it, but I feel like that must have made some impression on me. I thought maybe I wanted to be a midwife or a doula. I did do a doula training, but ultimately decided to become a speech therapist. I learned that speech therapists do a lot of swallowing and feeding therapy and thought lactation consulting might be a cool way to marry my interests.
When I started to look at grad schools and decided to go to the University of North Carolina, I noticed that they had a lactation consulting certification which is one of only four or so in the country that are affiliated with universities. It’s actually really time consuming to get the certification on your own, so I was lucky that my grad program accommodated the certification.
C: What surprised you most about becoming a lactation consultant—maybe something you learned or something about the community you became a part of?
A: One thing that kind of shocked me is that there is no medical professional that specializes in breasts! That’s just kind of crazy to me! There is a specialist for virtually every part of the body except for the breasts—there is no breast doctor! There are oncologists who specialize in breast cancer, but other than that, it’s kind of this neglected part of the body.
However, there is a lot of interesting research starting to happen around lactation now. I think it’s a really cool time to be a part of this movement. My cohort was such a varied group of women. I was a speech pathologist, we had a nurse, a medical anthropologist…
C: I don’t know much about medical anthropology!
A: Yea —her research was on milk sharing. Really fascinating! I also just really like being a part of that immediate postpartum period. Unless you’ve had a family member have a baby, you don’t get to be a part of those first 24 hours. It’s really incredible to be a support person for those women. We don’t live communally anymore, so it’s awesome to be a part of that little “pod” for those first couple days.
C: What would you like women to know about using a lactation consultant and breastfeeding in general?
A: I think the most important thing for me, is that women should know that you can have a breastfeeding relationship without exclusively breastfeeding. I’m the first person to say that I want everyone to breastfeed their children, at the breast, 100% of the time. It is this really natural, beautiful thing. However, I’m also a speech pathologist and I work with really sick kids who can’t eat, so I see the two extremes. I think people often think breastfeeding is this all or nothing proposition. There are amazing benefits to exclusive breastfeeding, but there are women who breastfeed for 24 hours and there are women who breastfeed for 6 or 7 years…
C: And any little bit helps.
A: Any little bit you're doing something incredible for your baby. It’s a lot of work. Women need to find what works best for them and their baby within that spectrum.
As far as utilizing a lactation consultant, some people put the baby on and they latch and it’s great, but for a lot of women it’s really difficult. I find that a lot of women are not as quick to seek out help and it is a medical issue!
C: I think it can feel like a “womanly failure.”
A: Right, women feel like it’s just something that should happen and if it doesn’t happen, something is wrong with you. There isn’t another biological process though where we would say, “Oh, it’s not working, it’s fine.” You would go to a doctor or a specialist. I think it’s really important to utilize lactation consultants as a resource. And it’s the same as finding a doctor or a dentist…
C: It’s not one size fits all.
A: It’s not one size fits all and you might need to go through a couple lactation consultants before you find someone that you really jive with. It’s too bad that one experience can turn someone off. There are so many different styles and backgrounds. Keep going until you find the right fit. A lot of women suffer through this process when they don’t need to.
C: I think that a lactation consultant is different from a family member too. Of course, you have an agenda, but it’s not a personal one. Women may feel pressured by what a family member is saying to do and hiring a professional may free you of those expectations.
A: Family supports are so important with breastfeeding, but it is a double edged sword. They come with their own biases and experiences that they’re acting on. Sometimes that’s really well intentioned, but it’s not always what you need.
C: What would you say you personal teaching style is? Maybe you would use a different word than teaching. Related to that, what can we expect from your workshop?
A: That’s a good question. I have always learned best from teachers who were really interactive and were interested in having more of a conversation than the traditional didactic approach of
“I’m teaching and you’re listening.” As much as I think that I do have knowledge to offer, I am just beginning my career and have a lot to learn too. I would like it to be an exchange. Perhaps, what I think are the most important topics or hot button issues are not the ones the people around me are thinking about. I want to use the audience to adapt my teaching. Hopefully, the workshop will be interactive and a little funny and maybe go in a direction that I wasn’t expecting when we started.
C: Can you share some thoughts in general about motherhood or working with mothers?
A: I think that particularly as a lactation consultant and a speech pathologist who works with feeding and swallowing, I’ve come to realize the importance of feeding your child. It’s such a primal thing and for parents food=love. They want to feed their baby and know that their baby is happy and nourished and satisfied. When there is a problem with feeding it’s really personal—whether it’s bottle feeding or breastfeeding. I really enjoy being able to satisfy that basic need of being able to provide for your child. Anything that I can do to ease that process when it’s not going well is a really nice feeling.
There is nothing like being there for the first time when a mom feeds her premature infant…when it’s been 10 weeks that the baby has been in the world and unable to feed by mouth and then I get to be there when the mom is feeding them for the first time…that’s incredible. It’s cool to be able to provide the support for that basic need that we all have.
C: Anything else that you would like to share?
A: I think information is really important. We’re all in this information age and hungry for take-aways, but breastfeeding is one of those things that you don’t know what it will be like until it happens to you. I think building these resources for yourself is helpful when something comes up.
C: But they’re really more of a toolbox than a manual.
A: Right. Know that stuff is going to happen, but you have resources available to you. It will be what it’s going to be though.
C: In all of the work that I do, I talk a lot about embracing “the messiness of motherhood.”
A: Messy is a good word.
C: Yea, messy often has a negative connotation, but there is a release of control that comes with motherhood. You can have the best plan in the world and children can change everything. Breastfeeding can be one of the first times that things don’t go according to the plan. There are so many schools of thought out there and like you said, it’s empowering to have the resources and make decisions that are best for you.
A: Yes, to tailor make it for yourself.