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.

Liz Westwater, MSM, CLC joins Healthy Children Project faculty

Healthy Children Project has gained yet another brilliant faculty member! Liz Westwater, MSM, CLC joined the team in May 2016.mail

Westwater’s maternal child health journey began at a family planning clinic where she volunteered right out of college.

“I felt very passionate about women’s health,” Westwater says.

She worked her way through the ranks at the clinic: volunteer to clerk to counselor to educator. From here, she moved on to working as a WIC program director. At this time, her focus shifted from a women’s health perspective to maternal child health; especially after reading Gabrielle Palmer’s The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts are Bad for Business.  Palmer’s book helped her to realize that breastfeeding is a feminist issue.

“I had always been an activist– boycotting Nestlé ,” Westwater beings. “I knew that what the formula industry was doing was pretty heinous, but it never dawned on me that breastfeeding could empower women.”

For over three decades, Westwater’s work has empowered women, families and communities alike.

In the mid 70s, she served refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia while working at the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Boston.

“I feel so fortunate to have worked with these people,” she says. Westwater remembers the transformation from when they first arrived in the states as refugees, struggling with English to when they integrated into the community, opening restaurants and other businesses.

While working at WIC in the late 80s, she and Cindy Turner-Maffei, MA, ALC, IBCLC started a breastfeeding peer counseling program with grant money from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Westwater calls the peer counseling program a “ladder up” for WIC participants.

Today, some of the women Westwater and Turner-Maffei originally trained are still WIC peer counselors, turned grandmothers.

“It’s really cool because one of the things we see as a problem with moms who want to breastfeed is their mothers not having a full understanding of breastfeeding,” Westwater explains. It has been found that grandmothers have the power to influence breastfeeding success.

During her time working as the accreditation director of Baby-Friendly USA, Westwater worked on the Best Fed Beginnings project and Communities Putting Prevention to Work, two CDC funded grants to improve breastfeeding outcomes.

In a 2013 interview with Our Milky Way, Westwater said in regard to the growth of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI): “These are really exciting times. For many, many years I’ve been involved in promoting breastfeeding and I never thought I’d see this day.”

Today, Westwater says she is most impressed by the amount of people who understand the importance of getting breastfeeding off to a good start.

“When I first started Baby-Friendly in 2005… the biggest struggle was rooming-in,” Westwater explains. “There were so many hospitals that just couldn’t move forward because they were unable to inform their staff and patients about the true importance of rooming-in.”

Toward the end of her work with Baby-Friendly, Westwater says she noticed that hospitals rarely failed to get rooming-in to work.

Westwater also notes that more and more, people understand the importance of skin to skin.

“People are beginning to realize that it can be done, and it should be done, and that families love it!” she says.

Westwater retells the story of a New Hampshire hospital that haphazardly encountered a huge spike in exclusive breastfeeding rates over a two to three month period. The staff realized that a reduction in visiting hours because of the H1N1 pandemic was the reason behind the increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates: mothers and babies were given the opportunity to learn about one another rather than entertain visitors in the early days postpartum.

This fall, JAMA published an editorial called Interventions Intended to Support Breastfeeding, a critique on individual versus system-level breastfeeding interventions, like BFHI.

“I read the article with dismay,” Westwater comments.

She goes on: “I understand we need to be evidence-based; I can’t downplay the importance of evidence…but in looking to the science for guidance, we can’t overlook the ‘duh,’ the common sense. We can’t overlook the natural. I always think about when we were giving birth in caves. Did the midwife or medicine woman take the baby away from the mother? What was the best and safest place for that baby? When I watch a baby [who’s] just been born crawl up a mother’s belly, there is something primal about that. There’s something that goes back to our most ancient survival mechanisms, so I don’t really feel like I need evidence to show that that works.”

Westwater comments further.

“What [the authors are] saying is having an institution support maternity care practice changes isn’t as important as individual interventions; however if the hospital is not making a commitment on an institutional level to improve outcomes, they’re not going to train lactational professionals. They’re not going to give staff time to do the intervention. It does have to be on an institutional level or the institution will not [direct] its resources in a way that is supportive of individual breastfeeding interventions.”

Since working with HCP, Westwater has been struck by the diversity of our country’s landscapes and people. She says has gained perspective on the common ground maternal child health advocates share.

“The folks that we deal with, regardless of their religious background or political beliefs,  all want to improve breastfeeding outcomes,” Westwater observes.  “It saddens me when I look at how polarized we are in this country. And yet when I travel around and teach classes wherever it may be, there is a sense of  comradery, sameness and a passion for healthcare and improving maternity care practices. What I see is that we do have common ground in this country. Maybe something like breastfeeding is the way for us to come together and move forward.”

Ushering in ‘a new season of harmony, justice, and peace’

Smolinski nurses her youngest son in Luxembourg, 2015. He recently turned 4 and still breastfeeds.
Smolinski nurses her youngest son in Luxembourg, 2015. He recently turned 4 and still breastfeeds.

Not surprisingly, this year’s International Breastfeeding Conference presenters are no less inspirational than in years past. We didn’t have a chance to feature everyone before the conference, so this week we’ll continue showcasing their fantastic work.

Amy Smolinski, MA, ALC, CLC co-presented “The Ethics of Breastfeeding Support: Issues Through the Screen” and “United States WBTi Report: Where We Are Now” at the conference this year. She also presented “When Tears Flow and Milk Doesn’t” which was inspired by case studies from her personal experience as a lactation professional.

“In particular, one week last year, I found myself utterly exhausted, drinking a glass of wine and eating an entire bar of chocolate, and I thought, ‘Why do I feel this way?’” Smolinski reflects. “I realized that I had been doing grief work with three clients in a week whose breastfeeding experiences had not turned out the way they wanted.”

Smolinski learned about grief processing and support from her mother who developed and ran the hospice program in their county.

“I realized that I was using the support techniques from the hospice philosophy and model in my lactation counseling,” she says.

The creation and accomplishments of Mom2Mom Global

Mom2Mom Global Executive Director Amy Barron Smolinski (L) and Administrative Assistant Sharen Lee (R) with Theresa Hart from Defense Health Agency, Aug 2016
Mom2Mom Global Executive Director Amy Barron Smolinski (L) and Administrative Assistant Sharen Lee (R) with Theresa Hart from Defense Health Agency, Aug 2016

Smolinski is a former Our Milky Way participant. In 2013, she shared with us her work with Mom2Mom of Kaiserslautern Military Community (M2M of KMC) in Germany,  a network of breastfeeding families that helps new mothers overcome the difficulties of living far from family support to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.

M2M of KMC has matured a great deal in just four years. In fact, in 2015 the organization expanded to support new chapters at other military communities; Smolinski created Mom2Mom Global, now a national nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with chapters in place or forming at more than a dozen military installations throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Smolinski details that in 18 months, M2M Global has:

Mom2Mom Ft. Bragg Board of Directors, World Breastfeeding Week 2016
Mom2Mom Ft. Bragg Board of Directors, World Breastfeeding Week 2016

In regard to becoming an MSC organization, Smolinski explains that M2M chapter directors and ambassadors are already required to obtain accredited lactation credentials in order to provide accurate, evidence-based support and education. Additionally though, she says that many military spouses wish to pursue the IBCLC credential.

“One of the acknowledged barriers to equity in the lactation field is the IBCLE’s hours requirement, and the fact that many people are unable to pursue any of the pathways because they don’t have access to a clinical setting or IBCLC mentor to complete them,” Smolinski explains.  “For military spouses, geographical locations, the demands of single-parenting during deployments or other family separations, and the frequency of moves are all huge barriers to completing the hours requirement.”

What’s more, most MSC organizations are structured to be maintained by the same person over many years. But with a transient military community, these groups sometimes dissolve, she goes on.

“Mom2Mom Global chapters are designed specifically to be sustainable through frequent turnover rates, which means that our chapters will continue,” Smolinski explains.

‘Adapt and overcome’  

Back in 2013, Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC)– the largest military hospital outside of the continental United States– was working toward Baby-Friendly designation but “because of budget cuts due to sequestration, LRMC could not continue on its journey.

“However, in what is a great example of the Army’s motto, ‘adapt and overcome,’ the Army has developed an internal designation for its military treatment facilities (MTFs), based on the Ten Steps,” Smolinski comments.

The staff of the LRMC Division of Women’s Health and Newborn Care is working diligently on implementing the initiative.

“We’ve seen some amazing progress in the past two years,” says Smolinski.

LRMC accomplishments include:

  • Three designated spaces for breastfeeding/pumping, including the first-ever Mamava pod in an overseas location
  • A required twenty hours of breastfeeding education for staff
  • Skin to skin for an hour after birth offered to most mothers
  • Delayed newborn baths for at least six hours
  • Local breastfeeding support information included in each hospital discharge packet
  • Collaboration with Mom2Mom KMC to cover inpatient lactation counseling services on weekends and holidays

“I was just on shift this past weekend, and we had 100 percent breastfeeding initiation!” Smolinski exclaims.

Reclaiming sacred feminine values

Mom2Mom Holloman Big Latch On 2015
Mom2Mom Holloman Big Latch On 2015

Smolinski holds an MA from Union Institute and University, where her thesis explored re-emerging Sacred Feminine manifestations in the lives of contemporary women. Smolinski incorporates her graduate work with the work she does today, especially with millennial parents.

“Now with today’s millennial parents, I think we are really seeing a new level of the reclamation of sacred feminine values as part of a shift to a more balanced societal paradigm,” she says.  “Millennial mothers are incredibly resourceful, and they are driven by a determination to give the best to their children.  Millennial fathers are eager and willing partners in parenting, equally motivated by what’s best for their children.”

This devotion manifests in positive and negative ways.

“I see so much anxiety in new parents these days,” Smolinski explains.  “They put so much pressure on themselves to be ‘perfect’ parents, and they are constantly inundated with conflicting advice from friends, family, and the digital world of online parenting.  At times, they are paralyzed with fear that every decision they make will somehow damage their children if they don’t get it ‘right.’”  

Perinatal anxiety is rising at alarming rates, and Smolinski thinks this might be the cause. Even so, she attributes millennial parents with great potential.  

“Infant feeding is a great metaphor for life in this case,” she begins.  “When I work with a millennial mother, and she goes from being anxious and terrified through the experience of learning that she can feed her child—figuring out what is the best answer for herself, her baby, and her family—to gaining understanding and confidence in her ability to nourish and nurture her child, something happens.  A fire is lit.  All of the power of that initial anxiety is forged into a new confidence that goes beyond herself and her baby.  She becomes determined to make the world better, to share this newfound power with others.”

And where the media portray millennials as entitled, Smolinski sees a generation with “steadfast rejection of the status quo.”

“Millennials believe in and expect racial, sexual, gender, and economic equality,” she explains further.  “Because they are digital natives, they expect change to happen rapidly, and they know how to utilize the tools of technology and social networking to make it so.”

Mom2Mom Mountain Home Big Latch On, 2015
Mom2Mom Mountain Home Big Latch On, 2015

During work on her thesis, Smolinski connected the image of the world-wide-web with the ancient Native American mythology of the Spider-Woman, the revered creator of life and weaver of connections between people, animals, and the earth.  

“…Our digital world is a new creation… and once millennials gain the confidence and skills to leverage the tools of our time, the connections being forged among us will ultimately usher in a new season of harmony, justice, and peace.”


WBTi involvement

Smolinski’s impressive part in bettering maternal child health keeps going. She took part in the “humbling experience” as a member of the United State’s World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) assessment workshop team.

“It was a fascinating challenge to compile data to see how our perspectives and experiences measured up against the national statistics,” she says.  “When we saw the whole picture, I think one of the biggest surprises was that the U.S. is doing better than expected in several of the indicators, although we clearly have a long way to go to meet goals for optimal public health.”

Smolinski reports being intrigued to see how the United Kingdom is using their WBTi assessment to drive policy development.

“I think we can learn from them how to leverage this data to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding in the U.S.,” she explains.

Smolinski sums up her passion for the work that she does:

…What excites me the most personally is the opportunity to work with so many passionate, dedicated women who are determined to normalize breastfeeding.  I am so privileged to work with women from all walks of life who all share the vision of a military and a world where breastfeeding is commonplace and supported.  I work with Active Duty service members who are warrior mamas, constantly working to bring their commands into compliance with the breastfeeding policies and regulations, because they know that every battle they win makes it easier for every future breastfeeding service member.  I work with military spouses who are able to quickly organize into a powerful force in their local communities to raise awareness and support for breastfeeding, often while their spouses are deployed.  When I’m interviewing someone who wants to start a Mom2Mom chapter, and I ask them why, the response is almost always, ‘I want to make the world a better place.’  And that’s what we do.  Last, but certainly not least, I work with the most amazing group of women on the Mom2Mom Global board of directors!  This leadership team is dynamic, powerful, smart, and cohesive.  We work amazingly well together.  Even though (maybe because) we are all military spouses and mothers.  We currently have an opening for our Chapter Director position, so if anyone out there is reading this and has a DOD ID-card and wants to make the world a better place, we’re waiting for you!

Memories from the International Breastfeeding Conference

15965498_10154762528572211_8086113142961603408_nThank you all for helping make this year’s conference such a smashing success! Here is what you shared as your favorite memory/most fascinating thing you learned/best part of the conference.

Don’t call women “guys.” –Linda J. Smith, Dayton, OH

Being serenaded by Ric. –Cindy Turner-Maffei, Sandwich, MA

Learning about the MTHFR gene. -David, MA

Learning how language can impact our audience, what does the listener want. -Barb, Atlanta, GA

15941522_10154757760157211_5381890504426057103_nLoved the love in the room for Lois. -Betsy, Wellington, FL

Being in a well informed, welcoming, educational fire hose! -E.A. Tailer, Burl., VT

Duck race was such a fun idea! Can’t wait for next year! -S. Lavrere, RN, CLC

I was so impressed with the study of effective skin to skin. It’s a problem I’ve identified at my hospital and will address. -Lisa A.

I loved that my mom’s duck #70 won the duck race. She was crowned Duck Queen, therefore making me Duck Princess! Also I love the microbiome. Any info is good info! -Rachael, Cape Cod, MA

There’s H2O2 in breastmilk!? No Way! -D.J., MA

15941128_10154762669217211_374832778684157534_nListening to all the brilliant speakers. Dr. Ric singing. -Cindy, NE

Value the mothering, return the right for humanization of birth to all women, loved Dr. Jones’ passion and commitment. -Sylvia

It’s nearly impossible to pick one highlight. I’m always fascinated and entertained by Dr. Jones’s presentations. I learned so much about swaddling from Linda Smith. I have a lot to process and reflect on after listening to presentations about race and maternal child health from Black breastfeeding advocates and lactation professionals. I appreciated Sylvia’s props in her autoimmunity presentation. Dr. Gupta shared such vital information. The list goes on and on. Most of all, George and I felt all of your love! – Yours truly, Jess, Hartland, WI