Introducing July’s guest blogger: Nikki Lee

mail1Nikki Lee, joining us as an Our Milky Way guest blogger during my maternity leave, has an excellent line up for you to indulge in this month.

The first time I met Nikki was at my first International Breastfeeding Conference. She warmly approached me and asked, “So what do you do?”

“I’m just a stay-at-home mom,” I replied.

“What do you mean just a stay-at-home mom?” she asked.  

During that simple exchange was the first time I felt validated as just a mom, and that validation never left my side. During that simple exchange, Nikki made me feel important which has had a huge impact on my confidence as a mother.

I have no doubt Nikki’s contribution to the blog will make an impact on your work.

In one post, she comments on a language change in the field.

“Folks don’t talk about breastfeeding any more,” she says. “They talk about latching the baby on. This makes me sad; it is like talking about the penetration instead of love making.”

In another post, she interviews Diana West about her co-authorship of the article Transmasculine individuals’ experiences with lactation, chestfeeding, and gender identity: a qualitative study.

“The blog is about … what breastfeeding helpers need to do to best serve all clients,” Nikki reports.

She tells me another is about a model of practice exemplified in a local organization where doulas and CLCs saw about 450 mothers and about 20 to 25 of those needed referral to an IBCLC.
Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can visit Nikki’s website here.

Summer blog plans

The day my family welcomes another little human into our tribe is swiftly approaching! As I anticipate the intensity of another birth and the following weeks filled with squishy, sweaty, summer baby newborn snuggles, I’d like to update all of our marvelous Our Milky Way readers on the summer blog plans.

As I welcome a three month maternity leave navigating the milky waters of mothering three little ones, the radiant Donna Walls RN, BSN, ANLC, ICCE, IBCLC and Nikki Lee RN, BSN, MS, Mother of 2, IBCLC,RLC, CCE, CIMI, CST (cert.appl.), ANLC, CKC, and several of the talented members at Healthy Children Project’s Center for Breastfeeding will take the helm.

Nikki will take over during the month of July, dazzling you with her brilliance. In August (better known as National Breastfeeding Month!) the one and only Cindy Turner-Maffei, MA, ALC, IBCLC will coordinate World Breastfeeding Week themed posts by Center for Breastfeeding crew members. And just before I return, Donna will wow you during the month of September.

I’m so thankful to have such a great team temporarily take over Our Milky Way. I know you’ll be impressed and learn a lot. While I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to spend the summer focusing solely on my littles, I know I’ll be anxious to return in October. Wishing you all a safe and peaceful summer!

Best for Babes’ Miracle Milk® Stroll increases awareness of lifesaving power of human milk

Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll Credit: Katie Phillips Photography []
Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll
Credit: Katie Phillips Photography []
Best for Babes is the only national consumer-driven nonprofit for the human milk cause.  Their largest annual event, Miracle Milk® Stroll (MMS), is in its third year. The MMS happens each May in cities across the U.S. and Canada. The purpose of the event is to increase access to and awareness of the lifesaving power of human milk, especially for our most fragile infants in the NICU. Best for Babes shares proceeds with nonprofit partners to support their work in getting more human milk to more of our babies.

This year, over 2,500 people attended and donated raising over $31,000* for the human milk cause!

Rock Star Local Coordinator Amanda Cullen has been hosting the Stroll in Dover, Del. since its infancy. This year, just under 90 people attended.

Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll Credit: Katie Phillips Photography
Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll
Credit: Katie Phillips Photography

Cullen shares the highlight of Dover’s Stroll being the community rallying around a life-saving cause.  

“I loved ending the Stroll and having people who saw us walk come up to ask questions about milk donation and to connect with others saying, I breastfed my baby, too…The feedback really showed the impact of awareness!” she exclaims.

Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll Credit: Katie Phillips Photography
Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll
Credit: Katie Phillips Photography

Cullen also shares: “A mom was photographed breastfeeding her baby in the background of [a] picture– something that she was unaware of at the time… She was so amazed about  how unexposed she was and it has completely increased her comfort level for breastfeeding in public. One small step in reminding us that this is a normal behavior.”

Another mother donated 274 ounces of her milk to the Mother’s Milk Bank!

Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll
Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll

Davenport, Iowa’s Stroll, coordinated by Rock Star Local Coordinator Aubrey Schlue, also welcomed about 90 participants this year.  

Schlue reports that between attendees and sponsors, their event raised over $1,000.

“The highlight of our Stroll was having Jean Drulis, director and co-founder of the Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa, come and speak about what they do, the importance of human milk donations, and how to donate,” Schlue says.

The Davenport Stroll also featured a local mother who shared her experience using donated milk when one of her children–now a healthy 11-year-old–was born prematurely.

fe597a64-8449-48dc-9077-c3fc00fe00c6“The hospital wouldn’t allow her sister to donate breastmilk to their child, and she had to work hard to get donated milk from the Iowa Milk Bank,” Schlue reiterates. “It was a huge ordeal because they had never used donated milk at the hospital. Local mothers here in our area owe a lot to this mother, because she paved the way for future children to have access to this lifesaving milk.”

Schlue was impressed that a local news station covered their Stroll this year, too.

Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll
Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll

“I think that a lot of the resistance to breastfeeding and milk sharing or donating is based on misinformation, so any time we can get those statistics and facts out there in the community is a win in my book,” she comments.

Cullen and Schlue both admit challenges to hosting a Stroll.

Hosting the Miracle Milk Stroll is a pretty hefty undertaking, but having a co-coordinator or two really helps,” Schlue says.

She also says that the event doesn’t have to be extravagant.

Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll
Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll

“Not every Stroll needs a tent with tables and decorations,” she says. “The heart of the Stroll rests in raising awareness and funds to help premature and compromised infants…it’s important to encourage those who don’t have the time or funds to pull off such a huge event to still host a Stroll in their area.”

Schlue reflects on the first Stroll she hosted by herself. About 20 people showed up.

“It was still a valuable and worthy use of my time,” she says.

Cullen says that each year, it has gotten easier hosting the Stroll.

Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll
Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll

It can be overwhelming,” she comments. “We are communicating mostly via Facebook with almost one hundred other locations and Best for Babes Stroll Coordinators all over the country and Canada.  So, my advice would be to relax, remember why you are doing this, and ask questions!”

Despite these challenges, Cullen’s and Schlue’s passion to help moms and babies is unshakeable.

Even before having children of her own, Cullen says human milk was important to her.

Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll Credit: Katie Phillips Photography
Dover, Delaware Miracle Milk Stroll
Credit: Katie Phillips Photography

“I remember wanting to support friends that were having babies,” she says.

When her daughter was born with a minor heart defect that corrected itself around four months, her cardiologist attributed her fast recovery to exclusive breastfeeding. 

“My experience with her– having to take a new baby in and out of specialist offices during the harsh winter, lessening her risks of getting sick, lowering her symptoms when getting sick– I was able to see first-hand how beneficial breastmilk is,” Cullen says.

It was during her experience coordinating the  Miracle Milk® Stroll in its inaugural year that Cullen learned the most about Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a disease that affects the wall of the intestine.

“… After learning that receiving donor milk can be life saving, my passion increased,” she reports.

Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll
Davenport, Iowa Miracle Milk Stroll

Schlue says the human milk cause is important to her because “it is a perfect food for babies and children, whether it comes straight from the tap or is expressed and/or donated.”

She goes on, “The statistics on NEC are staggering and heartbreaking… It can cost so much money and multiple surgeries to repair the damage and yet, simply by using human milk instead of formula to feed these children, we can reduce the risk of all that pain and suffering by 79 percent. That is huge.”

Find more great Miracle Milk® Stroll stories here.

*Edited from original post to reflect final audited numbers.

Parent partners have profound impact on breastfeeding learning collaborative

Collaboration has always been a vital part of ensuring healthy maternal child health outcomes, whether it be among professionals or within the community. NICHQ’s Texas Ten Step Star Achiever Breastfeeding Learning Collaborative, supported by the Texas Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), is the perfect example of how to get parents involved in collaborative efforts that improve infant feeding support.

The learning collaborative includes multidisciplinary teams from Texas-based hospitals which are broken into three geographically-based cohorts.

a5b7f828-8a6b-4a2e-991d-a3af6ffe7714“The parent partner role is a member on the team that provides input first and foremost on their own birth experience…. This builds a connection and a focus in the work hospital staff are doing related to breastfeeding,” Texas Ten Step Coordinator Veronica Hendrix, LVN, IBCLC, RLC says.

Within each team, the parent role differs depending on their availability and personal skills. For instance, some mothers provide feedback on hospital-developed materials to ensure infant feeding messages are consistent and appropriately reach moms.

Parent partners may get involved with hospital marketing departments to help develop positive breastfeeding messages to display on social media outlets. Other moms have started in-person and online support groups depending on their comfort level, Hendrix explains.

Hendrix recalls one mother who contributed to her team through an in-person breastfeeding support group. At first the group’s attendance was low, so the hospital conducted a survey that revealed that mothers did not attend because they didn’t know anybody; they were apprehensive to open up to a group of strangers.

In response to low attendance, the parent partner went through the hospital’s training to become a volunteer. This allowed her to interact personally with the postpartum mothers. She encouraged them to attend her support group face-to-face, and it made a difference.

“That is the epitome of what we wanted a parent partner to do,” Hendrix comments. “It’s different when a nurse provides a mother with information on a support group than when a mom personally invites you to go to a support group.”

Hendrix says she’s proud that this team in particular utilized the mom in “a unique way that identified and filled a need.”

Overcoming barriers to parent participation

Of course, as with all collaborative efforts, the project has faced challenges specifically with engaging parent partners.

Finding the right person for the job is an initial challenge. Even when the right person comes along, availability can cause problems. What’s more, parent involvement can seem overwhelming, especially when moms are joining a mostly medical team where even terminology might be foreign to them.

Due to the sheer size of Texas, travel has proven challenging at times too. In these cases, Hendrix says teams must get creative about how to fund parent travel or keep them engaged when team meetings are missed. Because hospital teams are often inundated with work, it can be easy to meet when there’s a quiet moment without taking the time to invite the parent partners.

“It’s important not to forget that these are important partners that add value to the work staff are doing,” says Hendrix.

Also, because mothers are non-traditional team members, sometimes hospitals are hesitant to share their work with parent partners. HIPAA regulations protecting patient privacy have made the interaction especially tricky.

Finally, it can be challenging for hospitals to understand fully how to utilize and integrate the parent partner’s role.

“It’s important to look at the needs you have on the team and then think creatively about how the parent can fill that role,” Hendrix explains.

DSHS and NICHQ strive to provide hospitals with continued opportunities to learn, and give them ideas on how to best utilize mothers’ services.  

“It’s a matter of bridging those gaps where we see them,” Hendrix says.

Still, these challenges have not discouraged parents from getting involved.

Sharing their story

“What entices parents to participate is just being able to tell their story whether it was good or bad,” says Hendrix.

This NICHQ blog post highlights parent partner Andrea Thompson who shares her advice on getting involved with the collaborative: “My advice to parents is to get involved in any way that you can. Don’t be shy just because you don’t understand the hospital jargon or because many of the things that might be discussed in meetings don’t necessarily apply to you. Bring that outside voice. Remind the members of the team that do work at the hospital what you as a customer or patient, saw, got, want or need. They need that. Be an advocate for that different perspective. Hospitals can’t change if they don’t know where they are providing less than adequate support or care. You have a lot of power as a mother representative—don’t be scared to use it!”

Parent partner Ivette Torres got involved with the collaborative because “postpartum breastfeeding support at the bedside is imperative to success,” as she explains here.

Mercédez Cahue’s involvement as a parent partner allows her to exercise her passion for breastfeeding.

“I love being able to assist someone interested in breastfeeding and offer advice and help,” she writes on NICHQ’s blog. (You can read other patient and family engagement stories here.)

225x300_StoryPhoto_Jennifer-UstianovParent partners have a profound impact on the success of the collaborative. NICHQ Senior Director Jennifer Ustianov MS, BSN, RN, IBCLC reports that aggregate results from the 21 Cohort B hospitals have been impressive.

“In just 15 months, the overall  breastfeeding rate went from a median of 82 percent to 84 percent; the percentage of mothers receiving referrals to the community support they need at discharge to continue breastfeeding at home went from 62 percent to 83 percent; and the percentage of mothers that were able to raise their skin-to-skin rates after a vaginal birth went from 36 percent to 67 percent,” she reveals.  
For more information about this program, please visit

Mother’s premature births inspire her to donate milk

In full show makeup, voluptuous red lips and all, Jennifer Cloer, CLC stood behind a pillar in a valet parking garage, slipped on her nursing cover and pumped for her baby. Ready for an audition at the Venetian in Las Vegas, she practiced her vocals accompanied by the whir of her pump.

The Cloer Family
The Cloer Family

In fact, Cloer says she’s pumped just about everywhere for both of her babies who were eager to be born.  Andi, her first born, came earthside five and a half weeks early, but didn’t require any time in the NICU. Her son Rowan, born at 31 weeks and five days, spent 30 days there.

During her son’s stay, Cloer reports that “the support was amazing.” Her mom was able to fly into town for three weeks which allowed her and her husband to travel back and forth between their daughter at home and their son in the NICU.

Rowan on his birth day and two-year-old Rowan!
Rowan on his birth day and two-year-old Rowan!

Cloer also shares how important her husband’s support was too. In a Dignity Health article, she talks about her infant feeding decision as a joint decision between her and her husband.

“It’s very much a partnership,” she says. “It makes you family. You don’t feel so segregated from each other.“

In the perfect example of her husband’s support, Cloer was off to perform a show one night and forgot her breast pump.

“Oh my God, I’ll bring it!” she remembers her husband exclaiming, understanding the importance.

What’s more, Cloer recalls the hospital staff at St. Rose Dominican- Siena campus— which achieved its Baby-Friendly designation as of October 2014– being very helpful when it came to pumping.

“My son was born and a few hours later, a nurse came in and said, ‘OK Hunny, let’s try pumping’,” she remembers.

She says she was grateful that the medical staff initiated the discussion, so that she didn’t have to ask.

Because Cloer’s body responded to a pump for the first 30 days postpartum, not her tiny newborn, she says her supply went crazy.

Cloer's first milk donation of about 200 oz.
Cloer’s first milk donation of about 200 oz.

“I had an abundance of milk,” she says. “I would have never needed that amount of milk even if I went back to work full time.”

Cloer had “a ton” of stored milk from her daughter too, but she ended throwing it away because she wasn’t aware of her donating options.

The second time around though, Suzie Owens, a lactation consultant at St. Dominican, directed Cloer to the Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose, Cali.

Cloer was featured in Fox’s “Miracle Milk” coverage for her donating efforts.

The process to become a donor was simple, Cloer reports.

“It happened within a few days and it was convenient,” she explains. “They were so kind and they ship a freezer right to your door.”

Andi and Rowan, "strong and fierce!"
Andi and Rowan, “strong and fierce!”

Now, Cloer’s friends reach out to her for advice on donating their milk. She’s thankful for the opportunity to bring awareness to the importance of donating human milk.

Cloer recently completed The Lactation Counselor Training Course with her ultimate goal to become a NICU nurse and IBCLC. She is currently enrolled in the pre-nursing program at Nevada State College.  

Cloer reflects on her CLC course: “One thing that really sat with me was the praise to give to people for the good job that they are doing. People get caught up in the problem and how to fix it, that they forget to commend the family for what they have been doing.”