Internist looks to augment breastfeeding education

unnamedDr. Kristina Lehman, MD, CLC is an internist at Wexner Medical Center in Ohio who recently completed Healthy Children’s The Lactation Counselor Training Course. She participates in two online parenting support groups: Medical Mommas and Dr. MILK (Doctor Mothers Interested in Lactation Knowledge.) We are pleased to share an interview with Dr. Lehman.

How did you become interested in maternal child health?

From an early age I thought I wanted to be a pediatrician.  In medical school I liked everything that wasn’t surgical which led me to train in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics and specialize in primary care of both children and adults.  Having a child myself really intensified my interest in children’s growth, development, and care.

Why is breastfeeding great?

It is just the opportunity to bond with your baby.  I remember looking at [my son] around five or six months and thinking “I did that”.  How amazing is it that the human body can grow another human from a cell and then nourish it completely on her own for another six months and beyond?

What breastfeeding challenges do your patients face?

Most worry about supply and how to make working and breastfeeding work.

What kind of lactation support do you offer?

My medical center does not have outpatient lactation support.  Before I had my son I needed my nurse to assist patients or send them to a private [lactation professional].  I have always tried to offer general support at the well child checks, but now realize that I was trained with a lot of “booby traps” without realizing it.  I now hope to be able to help even more with specific things like latch.  I have now offered to my direct colleagues to assist with their patients for consults as well.

What challenges have you overcome?

In the hospital my pediatrician recommended we give my son formula and that continued a few times a week for the first several weeks. I really regret that now!  My son and I had issues with cow’s milk proctocolitis and excess lipase in my milk (had to scald milk before freezing or it tasted bad).  I always worried about my supply too! From the support standpoint, I felt my basic pediatric experience was not enough to help even me know how to breastfeed well let alone support my patients.  I learned a lot on my own after I had my son but really wanted to have more formal training.

What inspired you to take Healthy Children’s The Lactation Counselor Training Course?

…I really found my general medical education and pediatric education to be lacking in the specifics needed to actually help parents.  I have learned a lot on my own but it has been via internet and second hand, so I didn’t feel comfortable using that as my knowledge base.  I was really excited about the possibility of doing the entire training in a one week course.  I have recommended it to a lot of my colleagues…

What did you find most inspiring about the course?

I just love breastfeeding so much that being immersed in that topic for one week was beyond thrilling!  I definitely had a lot of knowledge reinforced but also learned a lot of new and corrected information too.  I just had a blast!

How do you plan to implement the course work into your practice?

I plan to use it to further enhance my ability to counsel my patients.  I truly hope that my patients are able to breastfeed more and longer because of my support.

What advice would you give other physicians in terms of offering breastfeeding support?

It is REALLY important to make it easy for parents so offering breastfeeding support in your office is so essential.  We really don’t learn what we need to support parents well in medical school and residency so PLEASE reach out and learn more.  Even more importantly is that a lot of what you think you know is wrong so please don’t propagate this misinformation because it really hurts moms and babies!

Why do you feel it important to offer virtual lactation support?

It is so hard to get away from our lives!  We can support each other 24/7 via social media.  You can also get many opinions…Some of what we do too is just support and encourage each other which you can’t necessarily get in a clinical setting. We celebrate each others’ accomplishments like getting to 12 months and normalize extended breastfeeding.

Are you optimistic about the future of maternal child health?

I am. I think in general we are getting to a pro-breastfeeding society and have a lot of great research to back the benefits to both mom and baby let alone the benefits to society. The Baby Friendly Initiative is a huge asset as well and I really hope to be able to help my hospital see the benefits in undertaking this effort.

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