Lessons from breastfeeding champion Kittie Frantz

Amidst the stack of papers handed to me at Willow’s two-year well child check up was a questionnaire assessing her risk factors for high cholesterol and the potential need for further cholesterol screening.

As I picked my jaw up off of the floor, I laughed in disbelief. How could any two year old possibly have high cholesterol, I thought. I quickly snapped out of my little dream world. I remembered our nation’s pitiful exclusive breastfeeding rate at six months and our heartbreaking obesity epidemic. I thought about the Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare film screening I attended the night before.

I became angry. What is wrong with our health care system?! Why aren’t we paying more attention to maternal child health when it has the potential to change our entire health care crisis?! What is wrong with our society?! Why can’t I remember my daughter’s social security number?! Stupid papers.

Then I saw Willow making faces in the colorful fish mirror hanging in the waiting room. I sighed a sigh of relief, beyond thankful for my healthy, magnificent child.

Kittie_newNot long ago, I spoke with Clinical Instructor in Pediatrics at the University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine, Coordinator of Lactation Education for the Los Angeles County, University of Southern California Medical Center and Breastfeeding Champion Kittie Frantz, RN, CPNP-PC.

She has worked within maternal child health for over four decades. When we spoke, I sort of expected her to validate my fury with our current birth and breastfeeding culture and consequent health in our country. Instead, she shed light on the progress our nations has made. Her experiences watching the evolution of maternal infant attachment allows her to offer invaluable advice to mothers and health care professionals alike.

Although I’m not any less angry with our reactive health care system, I’m inspired by Frantz’s tenacity and her ability to propel change.

When Frantz delivered her first baby in the 1960s, the attitude toward breastfeeding was really one of disgust. “You want to do that?” Frantz remembers her postpartum nurse’s revulsion, hair fashioned into a massive bee hive, holding her baby possessively. The nurse continued to tell Frantz that she was too young to have any milk and handed her a six pack of formula.

“But remember, I’m breastfeeding,” Frantz replied.

“Don’t you starve your baby,” the nurse spat.

I wondered how Frantz had the confidence to speak up for herself in a situation heavy with tension.

“She pissed me off so bad, I was going to succeed no matter what,” she says. “It was probably a good thing.”

And this was the norm; no one helped with attachment, Frantz explains. Swaddled infants were to be left wrapped so not to contaminate them.

Despite Frantz’ determination to breastfeed, she ended up running into some issues.

With no help from health care professionals or family members, Frantz began attending La Leche League meetings.

I tell Frantz that LLL seems to be the point of inspiration for many Our Milky Way interviewees. She explains.

LLL was the only support her generation had.

“We clung to each other like sisters on an iceberg,” Frantz says.

Today, LLL’s prevalence is subsiding.

Frantz puts things into perspective:“Can you imagine being a young mother without an internet connection?” she asks rhetorically. She’s right. If today’s mothers didn’t have continuous wifi access, I’d be willing to bet we’d be clinging to one another on the LLL iceberg just the same.

Frantz has three of her own children but she is also the foster mother of five, grandmother of seven and foster grandmother of at least eight.

She and her family welcomed pregnant teenagers into their family at a time that Frantz says no one was taking teenagers.

“They would have their babies and I would be there in labor with them and help them to breastfeed,” she says. “That was very rewarding.”

Frantz made sure the young mothers were enrolled in school in the next town over where they were allowed to bring their babies with them.

Frantz sat with the young dyads in the middle of the night so the mothers would nurse their babies. (Can I just say some partners don’t even do that?)

“It’s about opening your home and following your principles,” Frantz says of her foster parenting.

Throughout her professional life, Frantz began making observations about maternal infant attachment and tailoring her projects to fit the needs of mother and baby.

As a nurse practitioner, Frantz began making discoveries during her patients’ well visits.

“I noticed moms who weren’t sore held their babies differently,” she says of breastfeeding mothers. “I started applying what I saw and it worked.”

But she admits that her work with positioning and latch led the lactation community to interpret attachment as a step by step process.

“We made it hard,” she says. “It just made me ill.”

Soon though, Frantz teamed up with Dr. Christina M. Smillie, MD who put attachment this way: let the baby do it. In Frantz’s and Smillie’s Baby-Led Breastfeeding…The Mother Baby Dance, mothers learn to breastfeed by letting their babies show them how.

In the same spirit of neonatal capability, Frantz created The Baby’s Perspective, “a course for those experienced with newborns…and want to learn the baby’s perspective.”

Looking at early attachment from the baby’s perspective offers benefits to mother as well. When babies are given the chance to prove their competency, mothers are instilled with a sense of confidence. Current health care practices often inhibit a mother’s ability to believe in herself though, as technology increasingly takes over.

Frantz says this is the most difficult part of her job, helping mothers find self confidence.

From pregnancy and beyond we are sent messages that we won’t succeed at breastfeeding whether it be baby shower gifts of bottles and artificial nipples or the stories we hear from other mothers about their miserable experiences.

Frantz expresses great frustration with the latter.

“Women are not nice to women,” she says. “Why do we talk about how awful birth is and how awful breastfeeding is? What’s in our nature that we think to have to mess it up for other women?”

Lactation professionals play an integral role in promoting healthy environments for mothers and babies to bond. Frantz suggests beginning every consult by putting baby skin to skin because the practice is diagnostic and increases mother’s confidence, she explains. Showing DVDs like the ones Frantz has created is a great way to demonstrate the effectiveness of skin to skin contact.

Because our culture has unrealistic expectations for postpartum mothers, Frantz also suggests lactation professionals give moms practical tools for keeping her sanity. For instance, tell visitors they are welcome from 4 to 6 p.m. The remainder of the day is meant for mother and baby to bond.

Finally, Frantz remembers her colleague Dr. Joan Hogman’s advice: Remember that breastfeeding is fun.

“It’s a beautiful system,” Frantz says of breastfeeding. “The system works. I say let’s give it a chance.”

But lactation staff aren’t the only ones responsible for creating healthy environments for moms and babies.

Frantz conducted the 20 hour staff training for Los Angeles County University of Southern California Medical Center on the new 4-D Pathway.

Trained staff included nurses, aids, clerks, residents, etc. Now, the entire hospital staff has the tools to support breastfeeding dyads. Frantz says that many of their mothers still breastfeed after discharge because they have instilled a sense of confidence in the mother.

“Positive support from staff makes breastfeeding successful in the long run,” Frantz explains.

She goes on, “After discharge needs great support. The pediatric physician residents carry that knowledge and support to the continuity clinic where they do the baby’s well child care in our medical center…Support continues in an ‘atta girl’ format.”

Frantz’s Geddes Productions, LLC Breastfeeding Techniques That Work ™  offers a variety of educational materials for mothers and health care professionals alike including Delivery Self Attachment and a breastfeeding techniques series. Many of the films are available in a pay-per-view format.

For more information about Frantz’s work and her product line, please visit http://www.geddesproduction.com/kittie-frantz.php.

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