Growing a reputation

Downs Spradlin nurses her toddler at the Big Latch On.
Downs Spradlin nurses her toddler at the Big Latch On.

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.

10013506_220604331482013_3172665187043410705_nNow, 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.

Downs Spradlin writes: "I got swaddled at #breastcon17 and it was awful! Swaddling has NO benefits. Swaddling increases SIDS risk, decreases breastfeeding, and obstructs skin to skin."
Downs Spradlin writes: “I got swaddled at #breastcon17 and it was awful! Swaddling has NO benefits. Swaddling increases SIDS risk, decreases breastfeeding, and obstructs skin to skin.”

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.

Learn more about Oasis Lactation Services here and North Fulton Wellness Alliance here.

You can also Like Oasis Lactation Services on Facebook and follow them on Instagram.

Meet Patricia Officer, BA, CLC, CLS

Patricia Officer, BA, CLC, CLS is one of Healthy Children Project’s newest faculty members teaching the Community Breastfeeding Educator Course (CBE). She’s a golden thread woven into her community connecting with families to provide culturally safe, competent and relevant care.patofficer

Officer also currently serves as a Breastfeeding Peer Leader in Indianapolis, Ind. For over 10 years, Officer has also worked as a fitness trainer and coach at the YMCA.

Officer’s peer counseling and fitness training naturally intersect. When she goes to the YMCA, she runs into the same clients she works with as a Breastfeeding Peer Leader. This intersection allows her to provide relevant care like helping women decide when it’s best to resume exercise postpartum.

Officer is a familiar face and a valued community member.

“I love community work,” Officer says. “It’s just my passion.”

Officer deems herself a “girls’ girl” who believes strongly in Sisterhood.

“What I’m proud of is the natural draw I seem to have with women,” she explains.

She’s invested in women’s well-being; the relationships she’s built with women and their stories are of her greatest treasures.

“[Mothers] might come in for latch support, but I feel like at the end I’ve learned so much more,” she says.

In all her career, the moment that stands out most happens to be with a father she connected with. After teaching a basic infant feeding class, the father stood up and told Officer that she reminded him of his beloved aunt.

“I thought that was the best compliment,” says Officer.

Officer is impressed with her community for its thriving grassroots efforts and their ability to disseminate breastfeeding information, like through the work of the Indiana Black Breastfeeding Coalition of which she is a member.

Still, Officer worries that women’s health in general isn’t a priority in Indiana.

“We find ourselves trying to increase breastfeeding rates, but at the same time we don’t have respect for women’s health,” she says.

She hopes more organizations and more research will support women’s health issues including breastfeeding.

Learning about Race

I watched her body tremble with anger. A wave of exasperation engulfed the conference room.

Black women are 12 times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth than white women,” her voice boomed.

“Twelve times more likely!” she repeated disgustedly. Her eyes patrolled the room sad and tired, but not entirely hopeless.  

Karin Cadwell, RN, PhD, ANLC, IBCLC addressed the striking disparities in maternal child health outcomes in the U.S. and structural racism’s role in this equation at this year’s International Breastfeeding Conference.

“Don’t tell me the civil rights [movement] ended in the Sixties,” Cadwell went on. “This is not a problem that ended at lunch counters and bathrooms.”

Retrieved from:
Retrieved from:

Not long before the breastfeeding conference, I read Kimberly Seals Allers’ The Trump Election and 5 Urgent Wake Up Calls for the Breastfeeding Movement: Honesty, Gender Solidarity and PC-ism Are Dead. In all my 27 years, it was Seals Allers’ frankness, honesty, and sense of urgency in this piece that finally called me to become introspective about race; to question why I feel or react a certain way when confronted with issues involving race, to acknowledge my bias. I will never understand what it’s like to live a Black life. I can however acknowledge that the plight of People of Color exists. And I can attempt to figure out my role in creating equity for all.

Attending the breastfeeding conference provided me the opportunity to continue to process Race and my role. Like Karin, NAPPLSC President Felisha Floyd, BS, CLC, IBCLC, RLC trembled when she spoke. The tone she assumed, she explained, stemmed from a sense of urgency for the lives of Black babies and Black mothers. For those who die at alarmingly high, disproportionate rates.

All my life I was told that race doesn’t matter. That we’re all human. That we’re all the same on the inside.

“Then you don’t see my Black breasts, my Black child, my Black life,” Floyd explained.

I don’t see race sentiment is easier. It gives us an excuse to ignore what social science tells us about racial inequities. It gives us an excuse not to change.

When Willow was three, she fell down a flight of stairs. Her tears were tinged with pinkish blood. I wiped the tears from my face after watching her fall and rushed her to the children’s hospital.

When Seals Allers son needed to visit the hospital, she first had to change from loungewear to professional attire for fear of how she and her family would be received by hospital staff, she told us at the conference. Upon arrival, Seals Allers was asked, “Are you a teacher or a lawyer?” The questioning had nothing to do with her son’s condition and everything to do with the color of her skin. My experience as a mother is so far from Seals Allers’ experience as a mother, because she is Black and I am White.  It’s almost incomprehensible.

Hearing stories in the flesh from Black women has made it impossible for me not to see race. My midwife pointed out that it is not People of Color’s responsibility to educate or guide us in our journeys to be better allies. But women like Floyd and Seals Allers do. They put their emotions on the line and nearly wring themselves dry to spread their word. For that, I am so very thankful.

Below is a short list of resources I gathered mostly from presenters at the conference to help us become better allies to People of Color:

Center for Social Inclusion’s toolkit for talking about race

Fusion Comedy’s How microaggressions are like mosquito bites

Information about different types of racism and implicit bias

An ideal society

High schoolers explore human placenta, learn about physiological birth

Mo15541886_1145159192257817_1272081161668931327_nst high school students are lucky if they get to dissect a formaldehyde-soaked frog in science class.

About 70 Wauwatosa East High School and Wauwatosa West High School students interested in pursuing medical careers had the opportunity to explore a human placenta in December of last year at a birth class hosted by midwives LaNette McQuitty, CPM, LM and Katy Skarlatos, CPM, LM of Authentic Birth Center Wellness Collective.   

The students ranged in age from 14 to 18 years old; about 20 percent of them male.

In two and a half hours, the midwives took the students on a tour of the birth center (which features three birthing suites complete with fiber optic, starlit ceilings,) discussed physiological birth, and directed a placenta dissection which was donated by an Authentic client.

15622302_1144862715620798_2906795628059322069_nMcQuitty points out that learning opportunities outside of the classroom are an excellent way to capture young people’s interest and allow them to better absorb information.

Wauwatosa West High School Family & Consumer Science teacher Ms. Teri Thompson says she wanted to expose her students to alternative birthing options and medical careers.

“Visiting Authentic Birth Center gave them a hands-on learning experience,” Thompson says. “Many times students just learn the traditional information provided in textbooks and ‘gloss over’ alternative choices. I want students to have all the knowledge they can have to support their future families and careers.”

Taking the students on a tour of the center helped them make connections and ask relevant questions, McQuitty goes on. The midwives explained that their birth suites feature dim lights because “when your eyes dilate, your cervix dilates,” for example.

“[The students] were able to see how the facility and the atmosphere really enhance physiological birth,” McQuitty says.

During class, the midwives showed a picture slideshow of a laboring woman at Authentic. They asked students to point out what they did and did not see. What they saw in the images was a stark contrast to how birth is portrayed in the media.

An image of the midwives’ medical cart appeared near the end of the slideshow, once baby had been born. Helping the students to be observant, allowed them to go down a thoughtful pathway and figure out the most important components of the birth process, McQuitty explains. In any birth setting, keeping mother and baby safe is of utmost importance.

“We can do that in a way that’s comfortable and enjoyable for mom,” McQuitty says. “No one is screaming and yelling.”

Later, the midwives showed the students a more graphic video which depicted the birth of the placenta.

“They were very curious about that which was our hope,” McQuitty says. “We talked about how our body creates this disposable organ each and every time and how amazing it is.”

And then, there in front of them, was a real placenta to explore! The midwives instructed them with very strict safety and sanitary rules in place. The students felt the weight of the organ and explored the thickness of the sac. They snipped off parts of the umbilical cord to try and identify the difference between the arteries and vein.

“Giving them tasks got them very interested,” McQuitty recalls.

It was a new and interesting experience even for Thompson.

“…As a mother of three I’ve never seen what a placenta looks like,” she says.

McQuitty says her favorite part about the placenta investigation was the students’ acknowledgement of how incredible the placenta is. She says she was also struck by watching them “put it together”: I was inside one of these.

All but two of the 70 students explored the placenta.

“They all wanted selfies with it,” says McQuitty.

Thompson reports that her students truly enjoyed the experience and shared their knowledge with their peers back at school.

It was amazing and such an authentic learning experience,” says Thompson.
More info about Authentic Birth Center Wellness Collective here.

CLC advances breastfeeding protection and support in the workplace

unnamed-2Disa Farris, CLC balanced her manual, “trombone-style” breast pump on her knees hoping nothing important would plunge into the waters of the institutional toilet below her. Farris remembers “the dark days” of pumping when she went back to work as a teacher just six weeks postpartum.

“…If I ever have an opportunity to help someone not to have to face this, I’m going to do my best,” she thought amidst the confines of the toilet stall.

Farris has since retired from teaching and her children are now grown, 31 and 28, but she says she’s never forgotten her breastfeeding journey.

Her opportunity to help other moms emerged when she answered a newspaper advertisement for a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor in Marshall, Mo. While she didn’t anticipate going back to work after retirement, Farris says her “energy was needed elsewhere.”  

“Here I thought I was just going to be taking it easy for a while,” she begins. “It is the most important thing I never saw coming.”

Farris completed The Lactation Counselor Training Course in March 2013 to enhance the skills she had attained during her training with WIC. Acknowledging the value of the CLC training, her local health department covered the cost for Farris to complete the course.

“I felt so grateful that I could participate,” she says.

Through her training, Farris says she realized the significance of the seemingly small “nuances” that can greatly impact a nursing dyad’s comfort.

“I added to my tool kit for sure,” she says. “There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t utilize something I learned during that week.”

Example of lactation space in Farris's community
Example of lactation space in Farris’s community

In her role as a breastfeeding counselor, Farris specializes in helping mothers achieve their infant feeding goals when they return to work. She works diligently to help businesses become breastfeeding friendly through the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Breastfeeding Coalition’s Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite Program. But Farris doesn’t take any credit for it.

“Mothers have always been the springboard for assisting employers to become Breastfeeding Friendly workplaces, so all the credit goes to the mamas whom I’ve had the pleasure of being welcomed into their lives,” she says.

Farris understands well the “courage, conviction and determination” it can sometimes take for mothers to start conversations regarding their concerns about returning to work.

Often times, initiating this conversation is the biggest hurdle moms face when planning to return to work postpartum.

The needs of breastfeeding people in the workplace sometimes go unnoticed by their employers. While employers are generally supportive, they need direction, Farris explains.

Other times employers have lactation accommodations in place, but employees are unsure of what’s available.

“Once the dialogue is established, a lot of things fall into place naturally,” Farris says. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t take work, but that’s where it all starts.”

Thus far, Farris says she’s been particularly impressed by the lactation accommodations provided in two factory settings. Both companies received mini grants through the state to create or improve their facilities.

Another example of a lactation space
Another example of a lactation space in Marshall, Mo.

One of the companies provided a “gold studded” space equipped with a comfortable chair, privacy screen and “lovely” furnishings. The other company which already equipped their server closet with curtains to create the illusion of a window and a bulletin board where moms can hang photos of their babies, worked to add more lactation spaces.

“There are things that make this experience a little less heart-wrenching,” Farris says of mother baby separation. “They make you feel like a valued member of the company.”

When working with employers on lactation accommodations, Farris uses a kind and persistent approach.

“Go in as a seeker rather than someone who is there to tell you what to do,” Farris offers advice to others looking to implement similar programs. “Try to be an active listener.”

Besides the Breastfeeding Friendly Worksite Program, Farris is proud of the collaborative effort between the breastfeeding coalition and the Department of Health and Senior Services to support breastfeeding families in her community. She also applauds Marshall’s mayor for his support of breastfeeding families. Finally, Farris reports that Missouri desires more Baby-Friendly Hospitals in addition to Fitzgibbon Hospital which was designated in 2014.

“When you have all of these groups with a common goal, amazing things can happen,” she says.
Farris’s next personal mission is to establish a Baby Café-esque location in her community.