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
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:
- joined the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) as a national nonprofit member organization, with the goal of bringing the voices of military families to the national discourse on breastfeeding policy
- explored partnerships with the Department of Defense and private-sector organizations to improve breastfeeding outcomes for military families
- continued to build its 100 percent volunteer staff (with a five-member Board of Directors)
- implemented military-specific breastfeeding peer support at the local level through leadership teams
- continued to host The Lactation Counselor Training Course and the Advanced Lactation Consultant training every 12 to 18 months throughout Germany
- committed to diversity, equity, and inclusivity as core values within the organization
- become a Best for Babe’s Care Code Alliance Member because “Code compliance is a basic tenet of lactation ethics”
- been approved by The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) as a Recognized Mother Support Counsellor (MSC) Organization
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
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.”
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.”
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!