‘First One is Always Free’

Mary Laura Richardson, BA, MS, RN, IBCLC has always loved moms and babies, so naturally maternal child health advocacy became her life’s work.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

“The heart of the mother/baby relationship is breastfeeding,” Richardson professes.

In search of a healthier, more supportive environment, Richardson recently moved from central Pa. to Manitou Springs, Colo.

Our Milky Way connected with Richardson to share her reflections and a phenomenal, heavy piece of her poetry. Read on!

Richardson on completing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC): It changed my life.  [One of my instructors, Healthy Children Project’s Executive Director] Karin Cadwell, PhD, RN, FAAN, ANLC, CLC, IBCLC is a powerful speaker and the research-based methods she presented were so inspiring.  I had been working mother/baby for several years but didn’t realize until that class that the potential for positive change is infinite.  Karin helped me break away from past erroneous behaviors/conclusions and open myself to the possibilities. I transformed so completely, I decided to obtain my IBCLC and took the test last April and passed.  Thank you Karin!

More on her impetus to relocate: The previous hospital [I worked for] was not concerned about buying formula, locking it up, or providing lactation full time equivalents (FTE) in accordance with USLCA’s suggestions for best practice.  Our moms were pretty informed and desired lactation assistance.  Obviously, this led to burn out and extreme frustration among both the nurses and patients.  In my opinion, a hospital choosing to not adopt The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative is a colossal failure to our families.  Sometimes, as a nurse, instead of spending time and energy beating one’s head against a glass ceiling, it’s best to move forward.  I became aware of Colorado being a Baby Friendly state through my studies and decided in favor of a welcome change. It’s never easy to break with the past and embark into a new land, but the pros outweighed the cons.  My family has been incredibly supportive.

On how is life different now: I have hope, options and can speak without fear of reprisal.  I have been contacting other IBCLCs, community resources, hospitals, clinics and outreach programs to understand how our community supports breastfeeding.  The Nurse Family Partnership is expanding in this area and that is pretty exciting.  Other IBCLCs have been incredibly welcoming and supportive… They offer a wide array of programs and assistance to socioeconomically challenged women.  Their Prenatal Plus Program offers 1:1 support for higher risk moms with the goals of decreasing preterm delivery, infant mortality and increasing social support services.  Education includes breastfeeding classes and partnership with other key programs for women in the state. This program is dynamic, expanding, and on the forefront of cultural diversity and sensitivity.

Richardson on education and parallel advocacy: A dark moment while studying for my IBCLC was stumbling across Mike Muller’s investigative journalism from 1974 published by the War On Want entitled, “The Baby Killer”.  This article depicts the carefully plotted and executed genocide of third world infants in the name of corporate profit and greed.  This formula company unleashed a slick marketing campaign onto unsuspecting third world mothers. They even dressed their “sales force” in white nursing uniforms, offering free formula just long enough for mom’s milk to dry. The consequences were horrific and accountability has never been fully realized.  The majority of my co-workers had no knowledge of these dirty tricks. It made me wonder why this information wasn’t discussed in nursing school. I realize now, we just need more education, especially among our Registered Nurses. Without the proper education, we are unknowingly complicit in these crimes against humanity; we are the sales force for the formula companies.

And just like nurses need more education, so do mothers. We have a duty to provide informed consent.   In addition, nurses need to educate our moms on how to correctly prepare powdered formula. It is not common knowledge that the instructions on the formula containers do not accurately state the water needs to be boiled because the formula is not sterile. This puts our infants’ lives at risk and our government does not serve as protection.  Our families have a right to this knowledge. I have had nursery RNs argue with me, stating powdered formula is sterile if bottle water is used, not understanding the water needs to be boiled. We have a gross lack of education across the board.

Obviously we need clean water to properly prepare infant formula.  This is a problem in the third world and could be a future problem here.  The unethical company named in “The Baby Killer” article is also the same company masterfully profiting off creating a “water war” today.  They do not believe water is a “human right” and therefore should be privatized, leading to socioeconomic hardships, inequality and inevitably hurting our infants.  Once again, our weapon is education.

As John Donne wrote in 1624, “I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.

Her advice on how to be an ethical, healthy consumer: Go the extra mile. Research, demand, and ask questions.  What we put into our body, whether it is water, food, and/or modern pharmaceuticals, affects our health. Governments often favor big business’ interests above the health of people.  And for those of us that know better, speak up.

Richardson wants us to know:  One voice can make a difference.  Speech, writing and education are our most powerful weapons against corporate greed and complicit governments.  Together, we can make this world a better place.

On writing First One is Always Free: Someone once said poetry is just a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.  This particular poem sprang forth during the time between my leaving that hospital and embarking on this journey to a new life, inspiring me to write some of what I felt.  I will never forget the generosity of human spirit and friendship so freely offered to me by the nurses I have known.


First One is Always Free

Mary Laura Richardson, BA, MS, RN, IBCLC

Dealers of liquid formula, pushed through open doors,

Supplying a neighborhood nursery, non-“Baby Friendly” floor.  

Watchful nurses taking note, heed this curious sight,

Bottles appear mysteriously, cloak and dag by night.

Central nursery cabs and bins, always plumply stocked,

Ready to feed formula, complete with swanky tops.  

Polished logos shining bright, glossy picture themes,

Fess uncertain knowledge and quite possibly, malice schemes.

Special hand-held bottles, come desperate to defend,

We comprehend, we realize, our moms are hooked again.   

We’re solemn and profess our part, and wipe our conscience clean,

“Just one to help a real tired mom, we pray she doesn’t wean.”

We struggle to unravel, this contorted paradigm,

You see, breastfeeding education, demands a massive chunk of time.

Working thru the dead of night, grim reality sets in,

There is no rest, we do our best, keep baby skin-to-skin.

Request for aide and some relief, a real Lactation Team?

I guess for now, yet somehow, tonight we only dream.

Bravely marching forward, call bells unending ring,

We require reinforcement troops, to fight this dreadful thing.  

We have borne some heavy losses, during these Baby Friendly Times,

We call upon our government to halt these human crimes.

The WHO CODE needs our grave support, to protect the weak and poor,

From predatory companies, with delusions of grandeur.   

Our under-education is a disrespectful shame,

To not call out an industry, that both profits and seeks to maim.  

Our moms and babes deserve better, though a third world-wide apart,

We stand united together, until death do us part.

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