I first met Healthy Children Project faculty member Sheri Garner, RN, BS, ANLC, IBCLC a couple years back at the International Breastfeeding Conference in Orlando. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy love songwriter, I remember that her smile lit up the room. I was immediately attracted to her kind, comforting energy.
You might know Sheri as this year’s Milk Duck Queen. She and her handsome blue, duck Cy– champion of this year’s Milk Duck Races which raises money for Breast Cancer Awareness and Prevention– travel across the country together spreading cheer and lactation education.
Sheri has worked in the field of family-centered health care in hospitals, clinics, birth centers and military facilities throughout the U.S. and Germany.
She dedicates her time to educating lactation professionals and assists moms and babies in their breastfeeding journeys.
There was a time when Sheri hadn’t realized that some women struggle to feed their babies though.
It was during a breastfeeding educator training in the 90s when she found out that women sometimes have problems breastfeeding whether those challenges be physical, cultural or institutional.
Sheri watched her mother breastfeed her younger brother without issue as a teenager and went on to breastfeed her own children without problems.
“I didn’t realize women struggle the way they do,” Sheri says. “As soon as that came into my awareness, that is what I’ve really been committed to. First helping moms avoid the problem and second to help solve them.”
The most recent part of her journey started three years ago. Sheri curiously answered a Classified ad in the newspaper for a lactation consultant position at a small, independent hospital near Dubuque, Iowa.
She soon joined the hospital’s team where she now offers prenatal education and occasionally consults with mothers. Primarily, she helps train the staff on how to better facilitate an environment conducive to breastfeeding.
Sheri recalls one of her first staff meetings here when she suggested making skin to skin standard practice.
Her team members were receptive to the idea but were concerned about the constant flow of visitors after the birth of a baby.
Sheri mentioned that some facilities deem this time “The Golden Hour” or “The Magical Hour” and because it is policy, no one has to be “the bad guy” shooing away visitors.
“All… of the OB nurses’ eyes lit up,” Sheri recalls.
Very shortly after, a mother in her prenatal education class announced that she had just completed her hospital tour and learned about their “Golden Hour” policy.
In a hospital where 130 births occur each year, all it took was a single staff meeting to change their policy and practice.
Staff members quickly began to see that skin to skin really does make a difference. Babies rarely have low blood sugar and are almost never jaundiced, Sheri comments.
Sheri’s success stories don’t stop here. She recalls a time when she assisted a mother who underwent a cesarean section with her first baby.
“She was really excited about breastfeeding,” Sheri remembers this mother in the hospital chair holding her baby.
The mother became increasingly sleepy from pain medication as the baby started to show feeding cues. So Sheri helped the couplet back into bed.
“Would it be OK if we just lay the baby on you?” Sheri asked. The mother agreed as long as Sheri promised to stay close by.
Almost instantly, the mother fell sound asleep at which point the baby effortlessly latched and fed for close to 20 minutes. Soon, mom and baby were both sleeping with Sheri at their side.
“Snort!” the mother snored and startled the baby awake. The baby latched again and fed.
“This happened over and over!” Sheri exclaims.
By the time the mother woke up, the baby fed three times.
“All I did was sit in the chair,” Sheri says of her hands off approach.
As a Lactation Counselor Training Course instructor, Sheri has the opportunity to share her stories, knowledge and strategies with a wide variety of health care professionals.
It is this level of enthusiasm for and attention to breastfeeding that offers Sheri an optimistic view about the future of maternal child health. She says she never thought she would see the day that breastfeeding awareness and advocacy would be acknowledged at a federal level.