Exploring language among gender nonconforming individuals and nontraditional partners

 June is notoriously known as Pride Month, but October features other observances that bring awareness to a variety of health issues and topics that impact LGBTQIA youth. October 11 was National Coming Out Day, October 20 was International Pronouns Day and last week, individuals and organizations recognized Intersex Awareness Day

In Breastfeeding Priorities: Safe Sleep, Bias, Gender Equitable Norms, and Paid Leave— Q&A with Internationally and Nationally Recognized Breastfeeding Expert, Lori Feldman Winter, MD, MPH, NICHQ poses the questions: How can we acknowledge the need to be inclusive of all types of parents and caregivers?  How do we promote gender-equitable social norms to better support breastfeeding?”

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

Feldman Winter offers, “… We need to ask, ‘how do we better support breastfeeding among gender nonconforming individuals and nontraditional partners?’ so we don’t alienate anyone when it comes to breastfeeding. It starts with being more inclusive and acknowledging that the benefits of breastfeeding aren’t all tied to the concept of the ‘breast’ itself. Breastfeeding is a complex compilation of systems including biological benefits from skin-to-skin touching and nurturing; nutrients from human milk that can be breast- or bottle-fed; and benefits that come directly from the flora on a lactating/nursing breast.

There are multiple ways to look at breastfeeding and understand its benefits, Feldman Winter continues. 

For instance “a chest that may not be able to produce milk can still nurture babies through the benefits of skin-to-skin contact,” she’s quoted in the NICHQ piece. “People who don’t produce breastmilk can still provide human milk through donor milk and bottle feeding. Transgender men and gender nonconforming parents and caregivers may still breastfeed safely if they choose to, and may prefer the term chestfeeding over breastfeeding because it respects their identity. All kinds of arrangements can be made to truly provide an equitable support system. As clinicians and scientists, we need to keep an open mind as we look at breastfeeding and explore how to optimize the health and well-being of all babies and families.” 

The authors of Effective Communication About Pregnancy, Birth, Lactation, Breastfeeding and Newborn Care: The Importance of Sexed Language present their thoughts about the risks of using desexed language in perinatal care.

Photo credit: PNW Production

The authors acknowledge that “Desexing the language of female reproduction has been done with a view to being sensitive to individual needs and as beneficial, kind, and inclusive.” 

They go on, “Yet, this kindness has delivered unintended consequences that have serious implications for women and children. These include: decreasing overall inclusivity; dehumanizing; including people who should be excluded; being imprecise, inaccurate or misleading; and disembodying and undermining breastfeeding. In addition, avoidance of the term ‘mother’ in its sexed sense, risks reducing recognition and the right to protection of the mother-infant dyad.”  

As part of this discussion, NICHQ has released statements in regard to the use of its language.

Photo by Mikhail Nilov

Heidi Brooks, Chief Operating Officer at NICHQ writes,  “NICHQ is not abandoning the traditional use of the terms ‘mother’ and ‘maternal.’ We are embracing the inclusive language of ‘birthing person/people’ across our work. A move toward inclusive language does not force us to stop using language that so many people identify with; at its core, inclusion is about creating more space for one another. We are taking care to expand the use of these terms in our communications, on our website, in our resources, and eventually, in all our projects. This evolution is another aspect of NICHQ’s commitment to equity in all forms, including race, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability.” 

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) put out its Clinical Protocol #33: Lactation Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Plus Patients in May 2020 to help guide lactation care providers through items like language, creating a respectful health care environment, through the effects of transition-related health care on pregnancy and breast/chestfeeding, fertility options, induced lactation and colactation and milk sharing, as well as put out a call out for future research to better inform practice.

Photo courtesy of Glenis Decuir

Check out past Our Milky Way coverage on LGBTQIA health

Uplifting transgender and non binary parents 

On becoming transliterate 

Working to close the gaps in LGBTQ care 

Blurring the binary 

Skin to skin image goes viral 

Wives co-breastfeed son for two-and-a-half years

Explore youth.gov’s page for other past and upcoming events celebrating Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Expression, and Well-Being.

Foundation for Mother & Child Health (FMCH) India tackles maternal child malnutrition by empowering women

Tomorrow is Diwali, a five-day festival that celebrates the victory of light over darkness. 

The Foundation for Mother & Child Health (FMCH) India reported that almost eight lakh (hundred thousand) children in India are not able to celebrate their first Diwali due to poor nutrition and health outcomes. 

FMCH works to empower families from vulnerable communities with actionable information and services, resulting in health seeking behavior and nutritious food choices in order to tackle maternal child malnutrition, ultimately breaking the cycle of poverty. 

“FMCH India’s work empowers women – it gives confidence and encouragement to an FMCH field officer, adds to the skills and knowledge of a government frontline worker, and builds agency and support for mothers in the community,” Shruthi Iyer, CEO and Co-founder, FMCH India tells Our Milky Way

When Our Milky Way first interviewed FMCH in 2018, the organization had reached 10,000 women and children in Mumbai and Thane districts of Maharashtra. To date, FMCH has now worked with 60,000 families across low income neighborhoods of Mumbai.  

Still, in 2020, more than 40 percent of children in India were undernourished and 50 percent of women were anemic. 

Community engagement event
Photo credit: FMCH

Within the first 1,000 Days, FMCH strives to implement education sessions in the community, home based counseling, and the strengthening of systems, each strategy with a strong emphasis on monitoring and maintenance of  quality. Sustainability has been built into the program through community engagement and government systems. 

Because malnutrition and maternal health are complex forces, FMCH engages in a variety of programs. Read in detail about them here

For instance, as part of Project Poshan, the organization identified that in Mumbai, “only 53 percent of newborns are breastfed within one hour of birth, displaying a serious lack of early initiation of breastfeeding. On the other hand, the percentage of breastfed children aged 6 to 23 months receiving an adequate diet is as low as 6.4 percent in the city.” [ Retrieved from https://www.fmch-india.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/FMCH-Annual-Report-2021-Interactive.pdf

Most recently, in the last year, FMCH “worked with close to 25,000 families, and recorded an increase in early initiation of breastfeeding – 74% from 59%… The national average is 57%,” documented in the latest Annual Report. What’s more, 70 percent of mothers started complementary feeding at the appropriate age of six months.

Photo by Ganta Srinivas

Their work supporting healthy infant feeding recognizes that breastfeeding is not only the responsibility of the mother though and aims to educate the network of people around the breastfeeding dyad

FMCH’s most recent annual report describes the success stories of health care providers and the families they serve. Explore them here

Iyer says the way forward is to establish more direct interventions, build out indicators for their theory of change and to conduct more trainings for Anganwadi workers. (Anganwadis are rural child care centers started by the Indian government as part of the Integrated Child Development Services program.)

Photo by Gene Brutty

In the earliest Indian literature, the Vedas (a large body of religious texts originating in ancient India) recognize the life-giving powers of breastmilk. 

As documented in The Religious and Cultural Bases for Breastfeeding Practices Among the Hindus “…Milk and breast are symbolic of longevity and nectarine sweetness” and “‘Drinking of the milk, whose sap is the sap of immortal life divine, may your baby gain long life, as do the gods by feeding on the beverage of immortality!’ (Susruta, III, 10).” 

Extolling breastmilk in modern India and globally, through programs like FMCH, is like the light over darkness during Diwali, the FMCH vision achieved: “Healthy mothers and thriving children for a world of unlimited possibilities.” 

Hispanic Health Council’s Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride (BHP) Program heals, empowers and celebrates through peer counseling model

Photo by Luiza Braun

Over half of the Hispanic Health Council’s Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride (BHP) Program peer counselors were once served by the program as mothers enduring mastitis or going back to work early or other barriers to healthy infant feeding. Yet, some of these mothers still managed to breastfeed into toddlerhood.

“They took the knowledge to not only be able to succeed but [brought] it back into their community,”  BHP program manager and lactation consultant Cody Cuni, IBCLC, BS says. “This is a success story.”

BHP is a person-centered, peer support counseling program intended to increase breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity among low-income, minority women in the greater Hartford, Connecticut area. For over 20 years, the program has existed in some form. In 2000, an official review of the program was completed and solidified the peer-counseling model.

The program’s name was born out of community feedback, mainly from Puerto Rican families. Cuni explains that as community Puerto Ricans were heavily targeted by formula marketing,  the name ‘Breastfeeding Heritage and Pride’ grew from the idea of reclaiming breastfeeding as part of their heritage.

Photo credit: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

Often, the lactation model of care is rooted in colonization, but Cuni says that their program  strives to respect and celebrate diversity.

“Our program seeks to empower…” she begins. “[Breastfeeding] is something that is yours, and something that has always been yours,” she says, speaking to the people they serve.

As program manager, Cuni trains the peer counselors through a 40-hour comprehensive lactation training. She approaches the training through a lens of diversity and cultural competence, helping peer counselors learn to have respectful conversations and teaching them how to be an advocate.

She explains, “Our peer counselors are working with mothers who do face a lot of bias in their health care and in lactation, so we have whole trainings on how to communicate with a provider, how to approach hospital staff who say things like ‘Don’t waste your time on that mother…’”

Peer counselors embark on visits with senior peer counselors and other lactation care providers as part of their mentorship model.

Photo by Felipe Balduino

The program also provides continuing education to stay relevant and weekly meetings to complete case reviews.

As part of their grant funding, BHP is required to track their breastfeeding rates, but Cuni says that what she finds more compelling than these numbers, is the documentation of the lactating person’s individual goals.

Empowering mothers to seek their own goals is our ultimate goal, Cuni says.

BHP is nestled in the Hispanic Health Council’s Parent and Family Learning department which offers other supports throughout the “cycle of learning throughout a family’s lifespan”.

Photo by Omar Lopez

“A holistic approach of care is vital especially for maternal child health care,” Cuni explains. “The first 1,000 days of life are critical to laying a healthy foundation.”

Practicing on a continuum of care gives Cuni and her colleagues the ability to gain a deep understanding of the families they serve, she says.

“Because we work so closely with the families, we establish trust and are able to refer in a way that they might not be open with [other providers].”

The clients that BHP serves are up against every breastfeeding challenge that every family faces in our country, but the issues are compounded and amplified by the stress of living in communities steeped in systemic racism and lack of resources, Cuni explains.

Their clients are managing intergenerational trauma and all of the symptoms associated with trauma, at a cellular level and beyond. For instance, BHP clients have a higher propensity of birthing babies with complex medical needs because of higher rates of preterm labor, gestational diabetes and other health concerns.

Cuni points out other challenges like those associated with being an undoumented immigrant. Gaining access to basic tools like breast pumps can be nearly impossible. Some of their clients return to work at two weeks postpartum after a cesarean section, not by choice of course, but for fear of losing their work as part-time employees.

And although Connecticut has workplace lactation laws in place, mothers will find that if they make noise about those protections, they might not see their name on the schedule any longer.

Photo source: United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)

Yet, despite all of these obstacles, Cuni says, “There is a sense of resiliency. They’re overcoming so much and they’re not even sitting in that; they’re just living their lives and wanting to do the best for their baby. That resiliency is really inspiring.”

Cuni shares about a mother who lost her baby late in her pregnancy and decided to pump and donate her milk for six months.

“This mom, her experience, her unimaginable tragedy…she still wanted to do something with her milk, and it was really a privilege for our peer counselors to support her.”

Another client they served, after struggling to assert her workplace lactation rights, had a position created for her by their HR department as “breastfeeding liaison”. Now, she is an advocate for any breastfeeding or lactating mother at her workplace.

“Not only did she win for herself, she left it better,” Cuni comments.

Cuni came to this work as a stay-at-home mom with ten years of breastfeeding experience. She was a single mother, returning to the workforce after leaving an abusive marriage.

“My breastfeeding experience was valued as an asset,” Cuni remembers. “My lived experience counted.”

She goes on, “As women, and especially as mothers, we’re always caring for someone else. The pressures that we face make wellness difficult. Our society needs to do more to recognize the value that women have and the support they need to succeed. I want to …. amplify the voices, because if we listen, the answers that we need to solve the maternal mortality crisis, the answers are there if we listen to the women and families we are working with.”

For those interested in supporting the work of the Hispanic Health Council’s BHP, they are looking for donated breastfeeding supplies. You can get in touch at  codyc@hispanichealthcouncil.org.

Self-care strategies for lactation care providers

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. Read on about self-care strategies for lactation care providers.

Image credit: WHO

When a gas-powered vehicle is low on fuel, it’ll often show signs of fuel starvation like a sputtering engine and intermittent power surges. Eventually, when the engine dies completely, the hydraulic power to the brakes and steering lose power too. Steering and stopping is still possible at this point, but it requires greater effort.

Perinatal professional Sara BhaduriHauck, CLC of Mandala Motherhood analogizes the vehicle and the human body and how self-care and nurturing mental health is crucial to providing sustainable care.

“It feels good to give,” she begins, speaking from the perspective of lactation care provider. “But you can only give so much.”

Learning to sense the feelings and sensations that warn us of burnout, is like filling up the gas tank when it hits a quarter tank.

“Keep an eye on your gas tank,” BhaduriHauck advises.

This wisdom of self-discipline, knowing when to stop giving to others so that one can give to themselves, allows for a healthy care provider/client relationship.

Liba Chaya Golman, CLC with lev lactation shared her struggle after a particular session: “I just met with a dyad dealing with weight loss and low supply and while we have a short term plan and pediatrician involvement, I am feeling so emotionally spent after the consultation. I’m empathetic by nature and became a CLC after my own difficult breastfeeding experience. I feel capable of managing the situation and have people to refer to and rely on, but came home and cried after the visit.” Soliciting tips for lactation provider self-care, BhaduriHauck offered up some suggestions.

“I find therapy to be an amazing self-care tool, especially when client situations trigger my own traumas,” she shared. “The situations that hit us the hardest shed light on the areas inside of ourselves that need some tender attention.”

BhaduriHauck endured traumatic birth experiences herself, like so many maternal child health care providers who are drawn to this work because of personal challenges that they endured.

After slogging through our mental health system,  BhaduriHauck eventually connected with a trauma-informed therapist specializing in EMDR and a perinatal mental health specialist. Later, BhaduriHauck pursued training as a postpartum doula.

“Doing that work and learning how to help other people also helped me help myself,” she explains. “You have to have healed enough of your own emotional stuff to put it down and to pick up someone else’s, but in learning to help others, I was also learning how to support myself.”

She continues that journaling allows care providers to give their feelings space and “attention to be seen and articulated.”

“Sometimes I just need the space to express them before I can let them go,” she shares.

Affirmations are another avenue of self-care for care providers to explore.

BhaduriHauck uses this one most often: This work isn’t about its outcomes. It’s about making a difference.

“Over-giving/over-investing is something I fall into naturally, and I have to work at creating distance between a client’s situation and my responsibility to it,” she explains. “Reminding myself that me just doing my job, makes a world of difference to the client [and]  helps me release some of the big feelings I’m holding onto about the client’s situation.”

BhaduriHauck acknowledges two types of processing: active and passive.

Going to therapy, having someone who is trained in validating and providing empathy, is an example of active processing. When our feelings are “infused with empathy,” as BhaduriHauck puts it, “we can put them away inside ourselves softer.” The opposite of this can happen if we have not chosen the listener appropriately, she warns.

Passive processing sometimes comes in the form of slowing our pace and down regulating our nervous systems. For BhaduriHauck, she finds a calmer state of being by going for a walk, snuggling her dog, or taking a hot bath. In these scenarios, she might not be actively processing trauma or emotions, but she’s giving her body space.

Intentionality in practice can help preserve mental health, and allow a care provider to be a more effective support person too. BhaduriHauck suggests checking in with oneself, “Am I doing this in service of the client, or in service to myself?” If it’s the latter, there are better avenues to pursue the boost of “feeling good by doing good” and/or getting the assurance that “my knowledge is valuable”.

BhaduriHauck shares some final thoughts on mental health as a lactation care provider. “The emotional learning I’ve done in becoming a care provider and overcoming my own struggles, they’ve gone hand in hand.  My experiences help other people and others’ experiences have helped me in learning emotional management techniques. When I talk to parents… I can listen without it triggering past traumas.”

Photo by Madison Inouye

She goes on, effective care requires the provider to have trained themselves to embrace the emotional component of the work in ways that are in service to their clients.

In 2021, the CDC issued a call to action to protect health care workers’ mental health. You can find that  information here.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers resources for Health Care Professionals including peer and professional support options. Find those resources listed here.

Praeclarus Press offers Burnout, Secondary Traumatic Stress, and Moral Injury in Maternity Care Providers, an opportunity to learn about the stresses of maternity care and how to care for yourself on the job. Learn about the course here.

Happy National Midwifery Week!

October 2 to 8 marks National Midwifery Week. National Midwifery Week was created by the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) to celebrate and recognize midwives and midwife-led care.

Two of my three births were attended by midwives. My first birth in a hospital attended by an obstetrician might best be described using words like chaos, fear, coercion, and out of my control. Juxtapose that next to my subsequent home births with professional midwives which conjure words like calm, empowerment, grounded, respect and safety.

Midwives aren’t only attending births though, providing personalized, ethical care, but as this year’s Midwifery Week theme embodies– Midwives for Justice– midwives strive for justice on many fronts. You can find out about the North American Registry of Midwives (NARM) national advocacy efforts here.

Midwives also play an integral role in establishing healthy infant feeding practices. Read the Global Breastfeeding Collective’s advocacy brief The Role of Midwives and Nurses in Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding here.

I am proud of and inspired by the work that my midwife Erin does beyond helping catch babies. You can read about her efforts as an ally here.

ACNM has created a beautiful toolkit to help us celebrate the midwives around us and the midwifery model of care this week and beyond. You can access that PDF here. It includes sample social media posts and ways to engage online, suggestions for community gatherings, and ways to celebrate accomplishments like parties, team building events and award ceremonies.  

Check out past celebrations of the midwife for still relevant resources like WHO’s declaration of 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and the International Day of the Midwives.

For further reading on midwifery care, especially indigenous midwifery care, check out Knowledge Keepers: Why We Need Indigenous Midwives and Giving Birth Where the Family IsCommonSense Childbirth and Changing Woman Initiative’s  Power of One Indigenous Midwifery Fellowship program at http://www.changingwomaninitiative.com/power-of-one-indigenous-midwifery-fellowship.html.

Past Our Milky Way coverage on midwives

Honoring midwives during Women’s History Month

Alabama birth worker facilitates holistic, sustainable care for families

Taking ‘if’ out of the equation

Skin-to-skin in the operating room after cesarean birth

High schoolers explore human placenta, learn about physiological birth

Happy Birth Day, a new project by Dr. Kajsa Brimdyr

An opportunity for normal birth

Renaissance Woman

Dr. Soo Downe: International Breastfeeding Conference presenter Sneak Peak

#MidwiferyWeek2022 #MidwivesforJustice