VA Maternity Care Coordinator (MCC) program facilitates specialized care for military Veteran parents

For new families, healthy, evidence-based infant feeding education and support can be hard to come by, but among this often barren landscape of support, the VA Maternity Care Coordinator (MCC) program provides an oasis for military Veteran mothers.  

Retired USAF Lt Col Tammy Tenace BSN, MS, APRN-BC, now Women Veteran Education, Outreach and Research Coordinator  for James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla. says that the VA understands that pregnancy and parenthood often requires specialized care.

About a decade ago, as care providers started to notice that lactation and breastfeeding support was severely limited in civilian communities, they established the MCC role. MCCs maintain contact with Veteran families throughout the perinatal period, facilitating care that meets their specific needs. 

Because the VA does not provide obstetric care, the MCC acts as a liaison between the VA and the community obstetrical provider. MCCs follow Veterans through pregnancy and postpartum at one and six weeks postpartum. [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-019-04974-z]  The VA supplies Veterans with lactation supplies like breast pumps, nursing bras, nursing pads, storage bags, etc.

The MCC role has been established at every VA medical center, and Tenace has served as MCC at her hospital since 2016.  

Photo by George Pak : https://www.pexels.com/photo/family-sitting-on-sofa-beside-house-plant-near-the-windows-7983863/

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, what little perinatal support existed in civilian spaces, dwindled to almost nothing, Tenace points out. 

Hospital breastfeeding support groups, while only meeting a couple of times a week, stopped meeting altogether. Women weren’t allowed support people or their partners at appointments, and they began to feel isolated. 

“I realized I needed to do something; I couldn’t depend on the community,” Tenace says.  

Working through the Office on Women’s Health as a subject matter expert, VA National Consultant for Lactation Ashley M. Lauria, MA, RD, LDN, IBCLC helps establish standards of care in lactation programs at VA facilities nationwide. 

Tenace and Lauria both comment that among the hundreds of parents they have cared for, it is truly a rarity for an individual to express disinterest in lactation. Their experience reflects national numbers, where most dyads start out breastfeeding. 

Women Veterans are the fastest growing group among the Veteran population. In fact,  “by 2040, VA estimates they will comprise 18% of the Veteran population, versus just 4% in 2000,” according to a VA Pittsburgh press release.

In order to keep up with this demand, Tenace and her colleagues are in the process of curating a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) program. Made possible through funding from the Women’s Health Innovations and Staffing Enhancements (WHISE), ten of their staff members are completing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC), including Tenace, physicians, a health coach, advanced practice nurses, among others. 

“The most up-to-date information is really important,” Tenace begins. “[We are all] unlearning the things we thought we knew. The course has been instrumental to helping us feel like we are actually helping women, instead of relying on the knowledge that we thought we had. The course is detailed and professional, yet practical. The practicalness is what’s to our advantage. It’s how we actually help women breastfeed.”

Photo by Timothy Meinberg on Unsplash

Tenace and Lauria go on to explain that their efforts are Veteran-led. That is, their facilities host quarterly focus groups where they can learn about Veterans’ requests. 

“We want to know from women: what do they want?” Tenace comments. 

Because Veteran women often prefer support groups comprised of other Veterans, Lauria offers virtual lactation support groups that also act as social circles and a place for comradery. 

As James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital designs new facilities, Tenace has been invited to offer input on the creation of lactation space for both employees and patients. Tenace applauds their leadership for focusing on improvement for the patient and employee experience. She also highlights that the newly designed main entrance will host a lactation pod. 

“I can’t think of a better way to show commitment,” she adds.  

Tenace and Lauria have embodied a passion for birth and lactation since their youth. Their work with the VA allows them to continue their mission to celebrate parents and their families and position themselves as life-long learners, evolving with the needs of Veteran mothers. 

 

Photo by Brianna Lisa Photography: https://www.pexels.com/photo/mother-breastfeeding-her-child-in-park-11620457/

For more on VA maternity care services visit https://www.womenshealth.va.gov/docs/WomensHealthReproductiveHealthBrochure508.pdf

More on Veteran Health https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2021/birth-equity-Veterans-and-servicemembers  

Regulations and resources for all military branches https://www.mom2momglobal.org/bficb 

Coverage for pregnancy and lactation care in the military health system https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/11/01/tricare-cover-doulas-lactation-consultants-some-starting-jan-1.html 

Graduate student explores complexities of nutrition and health from cradle to grave

Originally from New Orleans, Erin Bannister, lab instructor and dietetic intern at Northern Illinois University, says that food is tied to her identity.  Bannister was ten when she first learned to make a roux. Those early skills prepared her for her later work as a chef, which she describes as a kind of manual labor with long, hot hours. 

Bannister shares with a laugh, that she started to wonder how she could work with food and continue to nourish people with weekends and holidays off. Eventually, she discovered the field of dietetics.

Photo by ja ma on Unsplash

Currently in the thick of her Master’s thesis, Bannister is exploring the metabolic energy needs in adults and determining whether the default equations we use are accurate in the populations they’re used in. 

For instance, it is widely accepted that an average allowance for a roughly 170 pound man is  2,300 kcal/day; for women, it is 1,900 kcal/day. We expect that pregnant and lactating people will have higher metabolic energy needs. 

As Bannister spends a swath of her days compiling and extracting data, she says she’s discovering that some of the accepted equations need to be delineated. 

“The real root of my thesis and the root of most of my studies and the goals that I have, is to use accurate evidence-based interventions in the populations that they are meant to be used in and to not remove ourselves from that evidence,” Bannister begins. “… Often times, things are taught and then they are believed because the person that taught it is an expert and the evidence gets lost on the way; don’t forget to review the evidence.” 

As Bannister continues to pursue this idea that we can do better than sludging through the status quo, she sought out the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). Although Bannister has great interest in the complexities of nutrition and health from cradle to grave, she says that there is a solid argument that the health of a population is highly correlated with the health of its mothers. 

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

“[I want] to be as helpful and effective as possible… to have the knowledge to be able to contribute meaningfully, and the certification adds credibility,” she explains. “The training was quite eye-opening, almost embarrassing to say how little I knew about breastfeeding.” 

Bannister goes on that ultimately, she would like to work with nutrition intervention in low and middle income countries where the burden of improper nutrition is most severe. Currently, many countries worldwide face the double burden of malnutrition – characterized by the coexistence of undernutrition along with overweight, obesity or diet-related noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). In fact, nearly one in three people globally suffers from at least one form of malnutrition: wasting, stunting, vitamin and mineral deficiency, overweight or obesity and diet-related NCDs. (WHO 2017)

As Bannister buckles down at the end of the semester, she says, “I want to make sure I am utilizing all the forks I’ve got in the fire.” 

You can learn more about Bannister’s work by exploring the various topics she has presented on, ranging from potatoes to prison to poop. Connect with Bannister on Linkedin and Instagram @calibrating_palates.

Accessing the Milky Way scholarship opportunity

Recently, Healthy Children Project put out a statement about our stance on the current events. “These are incredibly trying and painful times. As we negotiate the very current multiple impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, recent events remind us that systemic racism and social injustice are longstanding national plagues…For too long families of Black and Brown babies have lived in fear for their children, themselves and their loved ones. The Healthy Children Project and the Center for Breastfeeding will not tolerate injustice, hate, bigotry and racism in any form.”

We expressed our solidarity with birthing families, our staff, our participants, our families, our communities, and our friends and hold Black, Indigenous , Mothers of Color in our hearts, our mission and our vision and reiterated that we will not tolerate injustice, hate, bigotry and racism in any form. We especially remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Our mission and focus is all about supporting mothers and their breastfeeding journeys. We know that Black women experience maternal mortality and morbidity at three to four times the rates of white women and infant mortality is twice as high for babies born to Black mothers when compared to babies born to white mothers. We also know that breastfeeding can help mitigate both of these unacceptable disparities. 

We are taking steps to help Black mothers and Black communities while staying focused on what we do best; train people to assist with breastfeeding. 

Healthy Children Project and the Center for Breastfeeding has always been committed to making lactation care community diverse and equitable. We have worked to make the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) accessible by giving scholarships each year to organizations such as ROSE and HealthConnect One.

But we realized that we could do even more. Towards that end, we announce that we have started an initiative called Accessing the Milky Way. This initiative will send Black, Indigenous , People of Color to the online LCTC by offering scholarships that range from partial to full. 

The first phase of this initiative will provide full tuition for the online LCTC on full scholarship for 25 BIPOC. This Accessing the Milky Way scholarship will pay the entire tuition for the course. 

In addition, we have started a fund to pay for the required text book and the testing fee for each of the 25 recipients to further eliminate barriers to becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor. 

We invite you to nominate a person that you know who wants and deserves the opportunity to take the LCTC in order to better serve and support the mothers in their community. We will be accepting nominations now through July 10, 2020. If you would like to nominate an individual, please send an email to info@centerforbreastfeeding.org and include the nominee’s name, phone number, email address, city and state, and a short description of the work they are doing and the benefit to their community by them becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor. Self-nominations are welcome. 

There are two fixed costs that cannot be covered by the scholarship. The cost of the text book is $75.75 and the fee to take the exam after the class (administered by the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice) is $120.  This additional $195.95 is another barrier to BIPOC getting training that will support the families in their communities. Healthy Children Project faculty is working to raise a total of $4900 which would cover these fixed costs for all 25 recipients of the scholarship. Those interested in growing this fund may visit the GoFundMe page here.

Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) offered completely online for first time ever

In this uncertain time, it can be helpful to remember that we have control over the way we respond to the things we don’t have control over. Healthy Children Project joins individuals, businesses and organizations that have had to adapt to this strange, challenging Covid-19 situation. 

“When you face challenges, we have two choices: Let it stop you or find a way to grow and make a difference, even during challenging times. Now, more than ever, lactation counselors are needed to promote, protect and support breastfeeding families, even though we temporarily find ourselves in a place where face-to-face courses can’t happen,” says Karin Cadwell, Healthy Children Project’s executive director. 

Since social distancing and safer-at-home policies have been implemented, Healthy Children Project (HCP) was propelled to use this as an opportunity to offer the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) completely online for the first time ever. 

“While we still strongly believe that the experience of being together for the LCTC course has provided wonderful opportunities for meeting new friends and colleagues and networking, the changing times have propelled us to revisit the course delivery options,” Cadwell says. 

ALPP will offer an online, remotely-proctored CLC exam starting this week

The LCTC course combines up-to-date high level evidence, counseling training, policy and practice.

“I have learned so much already that medical school, 20 years of practicing and nursing four babies never taught me. (I am only in the second section!)” one participant shares. 

Another participant shares: “I was extremely happy with this course, as it was taught in a way that was inclusive, free of bias, and with much knowledge. In addition, the evidence that was provided was exceptional. Though I was not able to do this course in person, the instructors created a course that was not only highly educational, but also enjoyable. Thank you again to all that made this course happen.”

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

The online LCTC is a self-paced online course presented in an engaging and energetic format through videos, self-check questions and competency verification and twice-weekly office hours with faculty to answer additional questions for online participants. 

“I am truly enjoying the format of this course and it definitely helps that you are all so entertaining and fun! I feel like I am sitting in your living room and you are telling me everything you know and it is quite lovely!” on participant exclaims.

The course should take 52 hours to complete (just like the in-person version).

“I’m so impressed with our participants. They are working on the course when they get back from a long day working in the hospital or in between their kids online school zoom meetings. They are finding ways to grow and learn, even with this new ‘normal’ we are all experiencing,” according to Healthy Children Project faculty Kajsa Brimdyr.

Offering the LCTC online has produced some unexpected benefits like accessibility. 

“I love that we are able to offer this to those who need the flexibility of online learning, those who may not be able to get five days off in a row can take this course on their own time, in a way that works for busy lives and schedules,” says Brimdyr.

“I enjoyed the teaching methods utilized and enjoyed the ability to work on training while having the ability to pause and do other duties for my employment as well,” another participant attests.

What’s more, faculty has gotten creative about how to best replicate the face-to-face experience. 

“The office hours are a popular aspect of the new online class,” says Healthy Children Project’s Anna Blair. “Karin and I have had a great time getting to know the participants and help them think about how to integrate the new information into their practice. It’s really fun. My dog, Sandy, occasionally joins us and I love seeing all the faces (and participants’ babies and dogs) on the screen during the office hours.” 

Blair continues, “It is so nice to connect with the participants who are going through this journey.” 

Participants have also shared that one of their favorite parts of the course is  the virtual office hours with faculty. 

“It is really helpful hearing some of the questions and answers people are asking/getting,” one explains. 

Participants can email questions in advance or ask questions during the office hours in the chat feature of the program. In the absence of in-person learning, this feature replicates the value of hearing others’ questions. Each office hour section is logged and labeled by topic so that students can revisit and review the questions at their convenience. 

Photo by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash

“We kept thinking about the phrase ‘Laurus crescit in arduis’ –Laurel grows in steep and difficult places,” Cadwell begins. “Not only have we seen amazing stories of resilience in the news and with our friends, our team at Healthy Children has been focused on making a difference in the world. We all have, and need, the opportunity to bloom. Learning together, we can share our experiences and knowledge. We have loved hearing from our participants during the course – their ideas, experiences and future plans. We all can work together to make a difference for breastfeeding families.”


To register for the Online Lactation Counselor Training, please click here.