Accessing the Milky Way scholarship recipient inspires positive change in generations to come

When news of the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship was released, Jackson Memorial Hospital nurse Lupi Nicholls-Reyes RN, BSN, IBCLC quickly thought of her colleague Santana St. Remy.

St. Remy feeds her baby after graduation ceremony.

“She is an amazing advocate for breastfeeding,” Nicholls-Reyes  writes.  “As a Lactation Specialist, I have seen how she supports mothers with breastfeeding during the night shift because I see the positive effects when I rounded on the mothers during the day.”

St. Remy says she was overjoyed when she found out that she received the scholarship.  

“It has been an important endeavor of mine to be a resource for other women and to make a substantial effort to decrease the maternal and infant mortality rates especially among the most vulnerable population,” St. Remy begins.  “Becoming a mother/baby nurse has been the first step in achieving that goal… The way I see it is if I am able to help one woman as it relates to the care of herself and the nurturing of her baby, I have successfully played a role in creating change in a generation of women. Her children will learn from her as well as her children’s children and so forth.” 

St. Remy says of the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC):

“My experience with the course has been phenomenal. I love the evidence-based research. I enjoy listening to the faculty’s experiences.  I especially enjoy the live video office hours.  

There was a veteran postpartum nurse that recently retired on my unit.  I remember some of the nurses feeling sad that she was leaving. Imagine someone working beside you with a wealth of knowledge that you could just walk up to and ask a question or advice on any situation you may be experiencing. That insight is invaluable.  When you look in a book or you use a popular search engine it just doesn’t compare.   

That is the way I feel about this course; the compassion, care, and empirical knowledge is invaluable.  I have learnt so much and have already implemented a lot of what I learnt into practice.”  

As a night nurse, St. Remy is positioned to help families move through the challenges of new parenthood during a time when, generally speaking, babies are more likely to be given formula during their hospital stay. 

For one, many parents have the expectation that their baby will sleep during the night, and they will be able to rest. 

“The moms only have access to a lactation specialist during the daytime,” St. Remy goes on to explain.  “So, it is up to the nurse to provide the mother with postpartum care as well as breastfeeding support which can be challenging sometimes because for a new mother this requires a lot more time than the nurse can spare.”

What’s more, St. Remy and her colleagues care for a large population of birthing people with high-risk pregnancies, challenged by conditions like Pregnancy Induced Hypertension (PIH) or Pre-eclampsia, Eclampsia, Gestational Diabetes, Chronic Kidney disease, Sickle Cell, and mothers who have endured strokes.

“It is very fascinating to see the capability of a woman’s body to deliver a baby despite having multiple comorbidities,” St. Remy comments. 

It’s with this sentiment that she approaches new families: through encouragement, reassurance and anticipatory guidance despite any roadblock they may be up against.  

“As new parents, it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to figure out how to care for this little human,” she says.  “It really does not matter the race, creed, or socio-economic status, the worries are often quite similar. For moms, the biggest concern is if their baby is getting enough milk.”

St. Remy offers education on what to look for to ensure that the baby is getting enough milk. She also teaches hand expression early on, not only as a visual reminder of the colostrum or milk that is present, but because it is such an important tool for parents to have going forward. 

Families who are not breastfeeding are not forgotten in St. Remy’s practice. She encourages skin-to-skin contact, teaches proper formula preparation and storage and safe bottle-feeding. Mothers who are not breastfeeding also need to learn how to prevent engorgement, St. Remy reminds us. 

With the onset of COVID, hospital staff and families have had to adapt to new visitation policies implemented to help reduce the spread of the virus. 

“In my opinion, mothers have been more receptive about breastfeeding; they want to learn more about ways to protect their newborn during these uncertain times,” St. Remy comments on an ever-changing environment due to COVID.  “It is important to maximize this opportunity by answering their questions and concerns which ultimately builds their confidence. ” 

Limiting visitors at their hospital has presented hardship in many cases; for instance, when doulas are prohibited from attending births, but limited visitors during the postpartum period has sometimes shown to be helpful, especially during the Magical Hour and beyond when newborns and their parents can bond without distraction from friends and relatives. 

Still, St. Remy recognizes the importance of familial support– something she experienced personally.

“I was determined to breastfeed my daughter and we were able to do so for about 2 years and 9 months,” St. Remy begins.  “In the beginning I thought I had everything under control with my background in nursing… it would be a piece of cake! I knew the theory behind it, but the actual lived experience was different.   I did not realize how much support I would need in the beginning and I was fortunate to have the support of my husband and other family members…”

After St. Remy would feed her baby, her husband would take over and spend time with their daughter. 

“He would have skin-to-skin time with her and sing her to sleep,” she remembers.  “She is three now and her favorite song for sleep time I found out a few weeks ago from dad is, Amazing Grace by George Jones.  It must be this specific singer when I ask Alexa to play it. I do not know why this song or this singer but those were the instructions from dad, and it really works.” 

Acknowledging the non-birthing partner as a competent, involved parent is another important facet to St. Remy’s practice. 

Reiterating her earlier statement, “…if I am able to help one woman… I have successfully played a role in creating change in a generation of women. Her children will learn from her as well as her children’s children and so forth…” 

St. Remy’s reach extends even beyond that though. She is an inspiration not only to mothers, but to non-birthing partners and to other maternal child health advocates and health professionals.

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