Standing up as an ally

When I found out that my midwife Erin O’Day, CPM, LM was traveling to Oceti Sakowin Camp, a camp close by Standing Rock Indian Reservation, I thought I’d indulge in her tremendous birth stories, the birth junkie I am. Instead, upon her return, there were no birth stories; our conversation turned to Race. Simultaneously, I worked on a piece about what I had learned about Race at the International Breastfeeding Conference, and where I fit in the movement toward equity. Speaking with Erin helped me to process the complexities surrounding Race. She sets an example of what it’s like to be an ally to People of Color.

Erin traveled to the camp for about two weeks in the middle of December 2016 shortly after the water cannon incidence.   

“Things were relatively tense,” she recalls.

There wasn’t any particular connection that drew Erin to Standing Rock except that she said it was something she thinks is “right.” She felt the need to “stand in solidarity with Indigenous People for a fight that could potentially affect all of us.”

At the same time, it’s a fight that doesn’t necessarily affect us all, but the people who have been oppressed for more than 500 years, Erin reminds us.

She’s dedicated to owning her role in ending racism, even if it’s uncomfortable.

“We need to feel the guilt, the weight, the stuff that’s uncomfortable, so that we can do everything we can to step back and allow other cultures in our country to step forward and take the lead…” she said.

In this light, while Erin offered her midwifery services she makes clear her trip was not a volunteer mission and that she didn’t arrive with a rescue mentality. Instead, she went as someone humbled; someone ready to follow the leadership of the Indigenous People.

Erin’s main role during her stay was to simply stoke the fire in the midwife yurt. She and other women’s health advocates handed out yeast infection and UTI treatment, condoms and pregnancy tests. While she did provide some perinatal counseling, she says most of the women at the camp preferred care from the Indigenous Midwife.

“There was a lot of tea pouring, warming people up, and inviting people to sit and process whatever they needed to process through,” Erin remembers.

As an ally, that’s where she felt she fit in: creating and holding safe spaces for others.

Erin also collected and delivered winter camping supplies including a face cord of kiln dried firewood, a four season tent with wood stove, about 40 long john underlayers, bulk food items like beans, rice, honey and coffee and hand and foot warmers.

It was evident to Erin that most other visitors were ill-equipped to withstand the sub-zero conditions at the reservation. This is what struck her most, that people arrived with a “Burning Man” mentality of which Erin’s experience was nothing like.

“It’s a war zone,” she said. “You are subjecting yourself to potential trauma.”

What’s more, sometimes helping hurts; perceived help was more a burden in that Standing Rock leadership became responsible for the well-being of their guests.

Erin’s stay overlapped with that of about 2,000 U.S. military veterans which pushed the total population at the camp to about 10,000.

“Port-o-potties were overflowing, almost to a crises point,” Erin said.

Not long after, a snowstorm hit and many people left. Erin called the “ebb and flow” of protesters “interesting”; perhaps an illustration of taking on the ally role when conditions are convenient and walking away when they’re not.

During her stay, an Indigenous friend Erin met at the camp had a disagreeable encounter with a visiting man. The encounter amounted to this man declaring that “He doesn’t see Race” which further upset her friend.  

Erin wondered how she could help and offered to talk to the man. Unsure of the result, her friend ultimately accepted reporting that no one has ever offered to do that.

Erin approached the man and explained that his intention meant nothing, it was his impact that mattered.

She reflects on this encounter:
“The example it sets in my mind is that we all have the power to speak out if we see racism happening. We all have the power to show we are capable of shifting perspective and standing in a place that educates each other versus the constant need of education coming from people of color, letting us know what it is that offends them. We should know already. We should be changing our rhetoric and recognizing what it is that we say that has a negative impact. We should allow that uncomfortable feeling to set in to give us perspective and admit when we are wrong in our choice of words… It’s a story of what it looks like to speak out as an ally.”

Breastfeeding Latinas group offers scholarship for lactation training

Ileana Berrios, CLC is a mother, doula and Philadelphia WIC Breastfeeding Manager. Berrios praises Philadelphia as a breastfeeding-friendly city with Baby-Friendly Hospitals, organizations dedicated to maternal child health like Maternity Care Coalition, and a sisterhood among women of color.

“Women in the community are now breastfeeding openly in public, engage more on social media, serve as mentors for one another, and proudly promote breastfeeding,” she explains.

Still, Berrios recognizes racial disparities among lactation professionals in her area. She created the group Breastfeeding Latinas to address these disparities, call for culturally appropriate and culturally safe care, and to provide a resource to women of color in her community.

Inspired by the National First Food Racial Equity Cohort, Berrios, through her group, created a scholarship program that will award one person from a network of community doulas tuition to attend the Lactation Counselor Training Course.

Members of the community doula network have been provided with instructions on how to apply for the scholarship.  At present, a board of current CLCs is being established who will ultimately review the applications and choose a winner together. The scholarship recipient will be announced at The Global BIG Latch On in Philadelphia on August 5, 2017.

“[Members of] the Community Doula Network have expressed their excitement towards this opportunity,” Berrios says. “Many doulas have already shared their interest and desire to become a CLC or breastfeeding peer counselor. Doulas are beginning to see this opportunity as a way to engage with more women in the community.”

Next year, Breastfeeding Latinas will extend multiple scholarship opportunities to other networks of women who work with the mother baby dyad, Berrios reports.

Berrios completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course in 2013 while working with WIC.

“I was amazed at the amount of clinical information the CLC training provided,” she says. “I consider this training to be the necessary step towards any human lactation profession.”

Because the information was “entirely new” to her, Berrios admits feeling overwhelmed during her training. Not discouraged though, Berrios continues her journey as an IBCLC candidate.

Going forward, Berrios hopes to see the emergence of accessible, culturally appropriate maternity and lactation care and less restrictive insurance policies.

Healthy People 2020 has high expectations for breastfeeding rates and Breastfeeding Latinas wishes to add fuel to the fire when it comes to improving initiation and duration rates,” Berrios begins. “But we first must start by providing high-quality support which can be accessible to any woman of any color from all socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Finally, she sees the need for insurance companies to cover doula care and care provided by CLCs.
In her community, she has found that more CLCs provide support than IBCLCs, but only IBCLCs can bill insurance. It’s vital that the work of CLCs is recognized and rewarded for improving maternal child health outcomes, she says.

Happy thoughts

The following post is dedicated to those of you who crave restored hope in humanity! Too often, I find myself defeated by the state of maternal child health, but as I reviewed notes from this year’s International Breastfeeding Conference, I was reminded of the progress we’re making. Below, I am sharing unique findings,“big happenings,” and other highlights from the conference.

Little George and myself enjoying our time at the International Breastfeeding Conference.

Help us add to this list! Please share your “happy thoughts” in the comments below.

Growing a reputation

Downs Spradlin nurses her toddler at the Big Latch On.

Downs Spradlin nurses her toddler at the Big Latch On.

One of Danielle Downs Spradlin’s, CLC favorite parts of her job is seeing mothers exceed their infant feeding goals. Downs Spradlin is founder of Oasis Lactation Services in the suburbs of Atlanta. She’s tickled by dyads’ “hilarious” weaning stories, like the little boy she recalls who traded nursing for a toy truck.

“I remembered how voracious and committed he was [to nurse] from birth, that the truck seemed like hardly an equal trade,” Downs Spradlin says.

Initially inspired by mothers with little access to current postpartum health information and even more by women suffering from postpartum mood disorders, Downs Spradlin completed her Lactation Counselor Training in 2011.

Because the fear surrounding birth is great, people invest in childbirth classes, but the postpartum period gets ignored, Downs Spradlin observes.

“No one told these women what to expect; that they would be wet and sticky, that feeding their babies might be hard, that unsolicited and incorrect advice would be easier to come by than truth or help, that it’s okay to think your baby is ugly, that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, or that it’s okay to not have it all together within three days,” she says.

Downs Spradlin finds too much focus on the baby with very little support for the mother.

“Telling moms that breastmilk is best for the baby isn’t helpful,” she explains. “We have to make breastfeeding beneficial for moms and convenient for all adults in the baby’s life.”

Downs Spradlin supports social change which makes maternal health a priority, particularly in communities of color where women and babies are most vulnerable.

Originally, Downs Spradlin planned to use her lactation training to develop a curriculum for families about how to make their feeding goals fit into a culture that doesn’t honor the postpartum period.

10013506_220604331482013_3172665187043410705_nNow, her practice partners with two pediatric offices and a chiropractic office. Downs Spradlin is also co-founder of a pregnancy through pediatric health professionals network, North Fulton Wellness Alliance (NFWA). The network seeks to improve continuity of care over disciplines including obstetricians, midwives, pediatric ENTs, chiropractors, postpartum therapists, doulas, etc.

Members of NFWA attend a monthly dinner to stay connected with one another. They also host community events and birth and baby expos.

Downs Spradlin believes strongly in WIC’s mission.

“The WIC program is critical for women in my state and directly impacts my practice and my community,” she says. “The community resources for breastfeeding support are extremely variable and some are unintentionally exclusive to upper-income families.”

She reports that Georgia ranks in the top ten largest WIC programs in the nation and says that the expansion of breastfeeding support within WIC is a public health imperative.  

Downs Spradlin reflects on the growth of Oasis Lactation Services:

“When I started my practice I knew not to expect instant customers,”  she says.

Instead, she networked with childbirth educators and doulas, got involved with her local La Leche League and birth and breastfeeding Meet Up groups.

“I met everyone I could,” she says.

Mostly, she provided a lot of volunteer hours teaching free group classes and hosting free support groups.

“My reputation in the community grew first; my practice grew second,” she says.

Downs Spradlin writes: "I got swaddled at #breastcon17 and it was awful! Swaddling has NO benefits. Swaddling increases SIDS risk, decreases breastfeeding, and obstructs skin to skin."

Downs Spradlin writes: “I got swaddled at #breastcon17 and it was awful! Swaddling has NO benefits. Swaddling increases SIDS risk, decreases breastfeeding, and obstructs skin to skin.”

In the first two years of her practice she broke even, seeing enough clients to cover the cost of her continuing education conferences, equipment and gas.

“By my third year, I had grown a lot,” Downs Spradlin reports. She was able to hire two other CLCs and add a postpartum doula to her team.

Downs Spradlin notices that scope of practice gets brought up a lot in her work.

“My practice focuses on providing evidence based choices to parents,” she explains. “I never tell a client what to do, always stressing that the family is the best judge of what is best for their situation.”

As a lactation counselor, it’s her job to explain the safety and efficacy of their choices so they can make fully informed decisions, she goes on.

Recalling her lactation training, Downs Spradlin says the amount of research that Healthy Children Project supports struck her.

“Culturally, Americans seem to believe research is unique to universities or pharmaceutical companies,” she begins. “We are information saturated, but most people are untrained in reading and interpreting research. Research from ‘trusted sources’ seems harder and harder to come by as pseudoscience is normalized on social media. Healthy Children Project has a unique place as a trustworthy source of feeding information because of the non-profit status and international reputation.”

And while Downs Spradlin uses evidence-based practice as her foundation, she says that helping families to get to know their babies is a much more valuable tool than any research she can provide.

Learn more about Oasis Lactation Services here and North Fulton Wellness Alliance here.

You can also Like Oasis Lactation Services on Facebook and follow them on Instagram.

Meet Patricia Officer, BA, CLC, CLS

Patricia Officer, BA, CLC, CLS is one of Healthy Children Project’s newest faculty members teaching the Community Breastfeeding Educator Course (CBE). She’s a golden thread woven into her community connecting with families to provide culturally safe, competent and relevant care.patofficer

Officer also currently serves as a Breastfeeding Peer Leader in Indianapolis, Ind. For over 10 years, Officer has also worked as a fitness trainer and coach at the YMCA.

Officer’s peer counseling and fitness training naturally intersect. When she goes to the YMCA, she runs into the same clients she works with as a Breastfeeding Peer Leader. This intersection allows her to provide relevant care like helping women decide when it’s best to resume exercise postpartum.

Officer is a familiar face and a valued community member.

“I love community work,” Officer says. “It’s just my passion.”

Officer deems herself a “girls’ girl” who believes strongly in Sisterhood.

“What I’m proud of is the natural draw I seem to have with women,” she explains.

She’s invested in women’s well-being; the relationships she’s built with women and their stories are of her greatest treasures.

“[Mothers] might come in for latch support, but I feel like at the end I’ve learned so much more,” she says.

In all her career, the moment that stands out most happens to be with a father she connected with. After teaching a basic infant feeding class, the father stood up and told Officer that she reminded him of his beloved aunt.

“I thought that was the best compliment,” says Officer.

Officer is impressed with her community for its thriving grassroots efforts and their ability to disseminate breastfeeding information, like through the work of the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition of which she is a member.

Still, Officer worries that women’s health in general isn’t a priority in Indiana.

“We find ourselves trying to increase breastfeeding rates, but at the same time we don’t have respect for women’s health,” she says.

She hopes more organizations and more research will support women’s health issues including breastfeeding.