Take chances, make mistakes, get messy

kathy_2012I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with health psychologist and lactation professional Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, FAPA a few weeks ago. I was equally thrilled when she mentioned The Magic School Bus during our interview. (For those of you unfamiliar with it, The Magic School Bus is a series of children’s books about Ms. Frizzle, a sprightly grade school teacher, and her class’ journeys aboard an anthropomorphic school bus to places like outer space, the past and my favorite, the human body.)

Kendall-Tackett tells me the best piece of professional advice she’s received is to allow yourself to make mistakes. She quotes Ms. Frizzle, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”

While I failed to ask her if she drives a school bus or wears funky science-themed dresses, Kendall-Tackett is a bit of a Ms. Frizzle herself. As founder of UppityScienceChick.com, she shares Ms. Frizzle’s fascination with science and offers a forum for sharing current and noteworthy research on the mind-body connection.

Because of the career path she chose, Kendall-Tackett says she knew she wasn’t going to fit into a traditional mold.

“I had to find a way to make it work for myself,” she says.

Her entrepreneurial spirit allowed her to create a brand for herself but calls it a “weird balance” between her academic background and self-marketing. She claims five main job titles: author, editor, publisher, speaker and science chick.

“It’s been an interesting process, something I’ve kind of had to learn along the way,” she says of entrepreneurship.

One of Kendall-Tackett’s newest and most exciting ventures is the launch of Praeclarus Press, a small press that focuses on women’s health. It offers e-books, webinars, and uplifting art, uses new, eco-friendly publishing technologies, donates a portion of sales to worthy organizations that support women and children in the U.S. and abroad, and offers low cost products to provide information to the widest possible audience. [Retrieved from: http://www.praeclaruspress.com/About-Us.html]

In her Shift Happens: How Scientific Paradigms Change and Why These Shifts Should Matter to Lactation Consultants editorial, Kendall-Tackett discusses Thomas Kuhn’s work exploring how scientific revolution occurs. Relating his findings to the work of the lactation professional, she explains that it is not in our best interest to accept all new ideas, but that it can be equally detrimental if we shut ourselves off from all new ideas.

In a sense, Preclarus Press’s mission stands in line with this notion.

“If we can put new information out there, we do our best to promote change,” Kendall-Tackett explains.

For instance, she calls The Virtual Breastfeeding Culture: Seeking Mother-to-Mother Support in the Digital Age  by Lara Audelo, CLEC a “game-changer.” It offers lactation professionals advice on how and why they should connect with their clients through various social media platforms in a world of expanding digital communication.

Kendall-Tackett admits, “I haven’t even scratched the surface with what you can do with social media.”

Still, she’s active on Facebook. Even more, she offers mothers and health professionals innovative, evidence-based breastfeeding information on a variety of web-based platforms.

Of her many accomplishments, she and co- investigator Tom Hale received the John Kennell and Marshall Klaus Award for Excellence in Research in 2011 for the Survey of Mothers’ Sleep and Fatigue.

Kendall-Tackett tells me she finds inspiration for her research from concerns mothers express. Like when a mother sparked Kendall-Tackett’s interest to begin the Survey of Mothers’ Sleep and Fatigue after the mother admitted to co-sleeping on couches and sofas with her infant.

“My reaction was we need to find a way to document this,” Kendall-Tackett says.

Her research exploring normal maternal infant sleep behavior contributes to safe and realistic sleep recommendations for mothers and infants. Watch her short video Safe Sleep with Your Baby here.

Kendall-Tackett expresses hope that her research will counter standard policy. She has made her slides and much of her other work readily available to the public so that lactation and health care professionals have the evidence they need to push policy change within their communities. Kendall-Tackett calls it a grassroots effort.

Along with policy change, Kendall-Tackett emphasizes the importance for lactation professionals to build a relationship with a mentor.

“Having good teachers makes a tremendous difference,” she says.

And mentorship can be a two-way street. Upcoming lactation professionals possess digital skills that the older generation lacks.

A combined effort of all maternal infant health advocates have led to amazing strides in the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding.

“I’ve really seen a lot of forces come together in an unprecedented way,” Kendall-Tackett says.

Kendall-Tackett and I agree that the general public is still missing an important angle when it comes to breastfeeding.

“If people can get breastfeeding right, a lot of other things take care of themselves,” she says.

While it doesn’t eradicate all of the problems, it has a significant positive influence on many of them like infant mortality, maternal depression and fatigue and child abuse.

Still, Kendall-Tackett would like to see more work done around childhood abuse and its effects on the breastfeeding experience. She has previously published work on this topic: http://jhl.sagepub.com/content/14/2/125.short.

Kendall-Tackett puts the notion of change into perspective when she explains that we don’t have to wait for sweeping societal changes. If we help one mom at a time, we’re getting there. Helping one mom can be just as significant as helping a community of them.

While Kendall-Tackett advocates for breastfeeding in the highest regard, she reminds us that overly generalized messages can be harmful.

Recalling watching a baby placed skin to skin on a new mother for the first time, she advises caution when promoting skin to skin for every new mother. Instead of experiencing the expected cascade of love hormones, as a sexual abuse survivor,  this mother recoiled in horror.

Lactation caregivers should always be cognizant of the fact that while we have the potential to positively influence a mother’s breastfeeding experience,  we also have the potential to make a mother’s experience worse if support is not offered in a cautious, sensitive and nonjudgmental manner.

Kendall-Tackett has spoken twice at Healthy Children Project’s International Breastfeeding conference in recent years; once sharing her knowledge on postpartum depression and another on sexual abuse and breastfeeding.

Visit her websites at http://www.BreastfeedingMadeSimple.com/, http://www.uppitysciencechick.com/, http://www.kathleenkendall-tackett.com/ and http://www.praeclaruspress.com/.

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