Breastfeeding in Appalachia

Carroll (left) pictured with ABN Vice President Mishelle Trescott (right).

You’ll often hear Healthy Children Project faculty say, “All roads lead to breastfeeding.” Time and time again, this sentiment rings true for Our Milky Way interviewees, like Appalachian Breastfeeding Network (ABN) President Stephanie Carroll, BS, IBCLC, CLS, CLC. With a degree in Communications, Carroll never anticipated she’d be doing the work she’s doing today. The experiences of birthing her two daughters though, led her to become the first peer hired as part of the Breastfeeding Peer Helper Program at her local WIC office in southeastern Ohio.

“I…owe a lot to the retired WIC director who first saw a light in me, Sandy Walker,” Carroll says. “…Sandy saw how passionate I was about feeding my baby breast milk. It is now that I realize that Sandy was the one true supporter I had in my own breastfeeding journey.”

Now, Carroll works as a Lactation Consultant at Holzer Health System where she revels in helping mothers transform.

“Breastfeeding changes you,” says Carroll. “And when you see that change in someone because of the help you provided, there’s no better satisfaction.”

She goes on, “This career field is one built of passion and drive, not on money and numbers. It’s the most satisfying when you duplicate that passion.”

Pamela Poe, left, receives an award for the first West Virginia Baby-Friendly hospital Mon Health System pictured with Carroll (right).

Carroll also works closely with the director of Women and Children’s Services and the physician/nurse team to introduce and build their Baby-Friendly Designation Program. She collaborates with Coffective and does freelance website work and writing.

Carroll volunteers her time to ABN, the Ohio Lactation Consultant Association, Ohio Breastfeeding Alliance, and other public Facebook pages working to normalize breastfeeding.

In 2011, she started her own Facebook page for her WIC clinic.

“It quickly grew into a huge support system for many women across the nation,” Carroll reports. “My page has grown to almost 10,000 likes.”

Carroll acknowledges the potential danger in using Facebook for “consultations” like HIPAA violations and lack of client history.

“Social media is instead used for promotion, links to information, news articles, and humor,” she explains.

In May 2016, Carroll and a few of her colleagues launched ABN, “dreaming that one day [Appalachian] parents would have the access to lactation care that they deserve.”

In just one year, the network grew to 11 states and 250 members. Today, ABN houses almost 400 members and continues to grow.  

“The growth was exponential!” Carroll exclaims.

She reports the network has over 1,000 likes on Facebook, an after-hours hotline that took 188 calls in 90 days, and an expected 200 people at their next conference in 2018.

“This growth was not expected, but also not surprising,” Carroll begins. “There was absolutely no organization that grouped Appalachia as a culture, together, to make an impact for change.”

ABN tracks its reach in various ways: through its after-hours hotline where they can measure ‘who, when, where, and why,’ through “insights” by social media outlets on their social media campaign Empower Mom Movement, and on a different scale by

educating nurses, physicians and other hospital staff through their Hospital Education Initiative.

Carroll says that, much like the barriers to breastfeeding in Appalachia, the network and their organizations face similar challenges of being rural and having limited funding.

“However, with modern technology, such as e-mail, conference calls, and social media, we are able to stay in contact and work with each other remotely,” she explains. “We also have other states starting up their own ABN meetings in person to work on initiatives separately, yet together.”

Carroll will present Barriers to Breastfeeding in Appalachia at the upcoming 24th Annual International Breastfeeding Conference & Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Bio-Cultural Perspectives which will focus on the sociocultural perspective of breastfeeding barriers in the region.

Her presentation will include anecdotal stories from Appalachian women, the history of breastfeeding in Appalachia, and current disparities and barriers.

“…While the presentation will focus on breastfeeding, many of these disparities can be applied to all of Appalachian healthcare,” Carroll says. “In order to create change, we must be aware of where we are doing our mothers and babies wrong, and how we can educate to induce change in the right direction. It’s all about normalizing a biological function, but changing a culture in the meantime.”

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