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.
Now, 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.
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.