Disa 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.”
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.
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.