Mothers matter

jenny2Meet Healthy Children faculty Jenny Spang, CPM, IBCLC, CLC! Jenny has worked with mothers and babies for over 20 years. She shares her story about how she became interested in maternal child health and her thoughts on the current birth and breastfeeding culture in our nation.

When Jenny was 15, her dog went into labor after dinner one night. Her parents stayed awake to see the first puppy born. Jenny, completely fascinated by the birth process, stayed awake the remainder of the night to witness the arrival of the entire litter.

“It was miraculous to me to that she knew just what to do,” Jenny says of her laboring dog.

At this moment, Jenny decided she would become a midwife. Her journey wasn’t as clear-cut as the intention though.

“It took lots of twists and turns,” she says.

Jenny started looking into what it would take for her to become a midwife. In the early 1980s, her options were very limited with only a few university-based nurse midwifery programs in the nation. Realizing the commitment to become a CNM she thought, “I might as well become an obstetrician. Then no one would tell me what to do.”

Once enrolled, she quickly realized that the very competitive nature of the other pre-med students wasn’t the right environment for her.

Eventually, Jenny graduated with an anthropology degree. During this time she fell in love and moved to northern Vermont where she and her partner built a log cabin and lived off the land. She became pregnant with her first son.

“I had a wonderful pregnancy and I was very confident about my ability to birth at home,” Jenny recalls. But after four hours of pushing, her midwife recommended they transfer to the hospital.

Jenny delivered her healthy baby just 45 minutes after being admitted into the hospital. She was discharged four hours later and continued her postpartum care in the privacy of her home.

“It ended up being a pretty darn good experience,” she says. “But it still took me a while to process and to grieve the loss of the ideal homebirth I had envisioned.”

Jenny’s birth experience resparked her interest in becoming a midwife. She studied independently and several years later became certified as a Professional Midwife.

Jenny took on other roles like WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, Childbirth Educator, Doula, Family Planning Specialist, Community Health Educator and home visitor for pregnant and parenting teens.

While working as a home visitor, Jenny started her journey to become an IBCLC. She interned at a local hospital and took Healthy Children’s The Lactation Counselor Training Course.

All aboard

“I was so impressed with that class,” Jenny says. “I learned things…that I had never learned before, and I also got the evidence for things I had learned that I just always thought were common sense.”

After completing her CLC training, Jenny delved into Healthy Children’s “Train the Trainer” course to become more confident training other professionals.

Thanks to the CDC’s campaigns combatting our nation’s obesity epidemic and interest in breastfeeding as a preventative measure, “breastfeeding burst at the seam,” as Jenny puts it. More than ever, people are interested in the significance breastfeeding has on our nation’s health. Healthy Children serves as the largest national provider of lactation management education for health care providers.

“The CLC class trains tons of people all over the country,” Jenny says. “We need everybody to know this stuff.”

And the need is incontestable because our culture often ignores and invalidates the important bonds being formed during pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding and early childhood, doing families and our future a great disservice.

“I’m seeing that the beginning [of life] is a necessary foundation for how it ends,” says psychologist and author Dr. David Chamberlain, Ph.D. in a Peaceful Parenting interview excerpt.

Influencing our future 

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. focuses on the parent child relationship through touchpoints. Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are all touchpoints that will influence the future health and wellness of families, Jenny comments.

Birth is a huge touch point that sets the stage for how the mother feels about herself and her ability to parent,” she explains. “That’s why it is so important women have support through the labor and birth process.”

Jenny acknowledges, as she experienced firsthand, that birth can’t always go as planned. However having good emotional support through whatever the outcome preserves a mother’s positive feelings about herself and therefore offers her confidence in the way she will parent her child.

The same goes for feeding her baby; a mother must feel supported in whatever her infant feeding choice.

“We need to feel supported in our decision because it makes us feel capable for of providing that foundation for our children in a way we feel good about,” Jenny explains. “For so many women, if they don’t get support through their birth experience and desire to breastfeed, they end up feeling guilty, like they have failed and that’s just so wrong and devastating.”

The newborn period is yet another touchpoint.

“One really important thing that lactation professionals and doulas can do is to protect that sacred time after the birth when mothers and babies get to know each other, bond and begin their relationship with uninterrupted skin to skin contact,” Jenny says. “Even when the support that women get through pregnancy and birth is not ideal or when medical circumstances truly prevent the optimal birth plan, skin to skin in the first hour-or as soon as possible when mother and baby are medically stable- is tremendously healing. The research clearly shows that continuous skin to skin after the birth until after the first feeding mitigates the negative effects of labor interventions on successful initiation of breastfeeding.”

Even more, skin to skin has been shown to affect the relationship and interactions between the mother and child for the first several years of life and probably thereafter as well, Jenny goes on.

“After being disempowered through their birth experiences, is it any wonder we see such high rates of postpartum depression at the beginning of motherhood?” Jenny wonders. “The statistics about postpartum depression and post traumatic stress disorder as a consequence of childbirth are truly tragic. So many women start their relationships with their children suffering from trauma. This is a broken system that needs to be fixed.”

Fixing the system

Healthy Children’s CLC course raises questions about the impact of current maternal child health care practices and inspires participants to explore how they can change policies to support best practice.

“I’m always really inspired by all of the the different people that come to these classes,” Jenny says. “There are nurses, WIC staff, doctors, midwives, nurse practitioners, doulas, childbirth educators, speech/language pathologists and moms with no medical backgrounds. It’s really exciting that all of these people want to help make it easier for mothers to succeed with their breastfeeding goals and they all bring different skills.”

CLC participants are encouraged to consider health outcomes, Jenny continues.

The Joint Commission’s Core Measure Sets include increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates but also decreasing inductions and elective cesarean sections because of the negative health outcomes associated with unnecessary intervention.

“It’s about all of us recognizing the consequences of current practices and changing to evidence based best practices so that interventions are used only when medically appropriate,” Jenny explains.

Jenny sees the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and its ten steps as having the potential to drive positive change, including allowing more mothers to have normal physiological births.

It is Jenny’s dream to see hospitals “go to the next step” to include Mother-Friendly hospital practices.

“It’s up to us to reinforce for the mother that she is strong and powerful,” Jenny says. “She is the most important person in [her] child’s life.”

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