LCTC participant fueled by daughter’s poor experiences

Shipley pictured with her grandchild.

As Tanya Shipley, a recent Accessing the Milky Way scholarship awardee, shares her experience working through the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) thus far, I sense both enthusiasm and relief.

“I love it!” Shipley exclaims. “I am learning so much stuff, oh my gosh, I love it. I  am just in awe.”

She goes on to explain that while she has always been interested in women’s health and wellness, she only became interested in maternal child health after her 35-year-old daughter’s pregnancy and birth this year.

Not unlike many women, and especially BIPOC women, Shipley’s daughter did not receive competent lactation care in the hospital.

“She was really bummed about it,” Shipley begins. “When she got home, she was having issues because she thought that she wasn’t producing enough milk. She felt like she let the baby down.”

Shipley blames some of what was lacking on her “own ignorance” as the grandmother.

At one point Shipley recalls suggesting: “Why don’t you just [give the baby] a little formula right now because she’s hungry.”

“It bothers me today because everything I am learning now,” Shipley reflects.  “It didn’t have to be that way.”

Shipley circles back to how much she is learning through the LCTC. This is where I hear a sense of relief in her tone; she is now well-equipped to share the knowledge she gains with not only new families but women her age, so that they can help their children, as she explains. It’s well-known that grandmothers have the capacity to influence exclusive breastfeeding. [More here and here.]

“After I finish a module,  I will call my daughter and I will share with her some of the things I am learning,” Shipley says.

Shipley recently left the entertainment industry and started volunteering for the Happy Mama Health Baby Alliance and Joy in Birthing Foundation. She also completed a birth doula workshop and finds herself exploring where she can make the biggest impact. She’s considering starting her own non-profit and providing lactation care in the hospital setting, fueled by the lack of care that her daughter received.

You can read more about grandmothers’ influence on infant feeding in For many, grandmothers are the village.

Medical librarian to perinatal services manager, LCTC participant strives to improve Black maternal health

Christian Minter, MSLIS is the eldest of twelve siblings. Her mother gave birth both at home and in the hospital, and she breastfed all of her children, so Minter says she was accustomed to seeing the full range of options when it comes to maternity care.

About ten years ago, Minter became interested in maternal and child health after hearing friends share their often less than ideal birth experiences. She discovered that informed choice was a rarity in their care. As Minter learned more about the disparities in birth outcomes among Black women and babies, she became passionate about working to improve Black maternal health.

At the time, Minter worked as a medical librarian supporting families with access to health information. 

“There was only so much I could do as a librarian to support maternal and child health,” Minter reflects. 

Her work evolved and in 2019, Minter began her public health graduate studies. As a project for the course Introduction to Health Disparities and Health Equity at University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, Minter created a beautiful mini-documentary about doula care for Black women. 

Minter also served as the manager of maternal infant health initiatives for March of Dimes Nebraska, Black maternal health organizer for I Be Black Girl and collaborated on the Omaha Reproductive Well-being Project

Now, Minter works as the perinatal services manager at Community of Hope in Washington, D.C. She is currently on maternity leave with her first baby who is three months old and cooed sweetly during our phone call. 

“Breastfeeding him has been an eye opening experience,” Minter shares.  “It’s one thing to talk about maternal and child health, and another to experience it firsthand. It’s giving me a greater appreciation of the breastfeeding journey of families.  It’s  increased my passion to support other families.” 

Minter shares that she had her eye on the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) for quite some time, but could never sacrifice the time away from work for the week-long, in-person training. As one of the most recent awardees of the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship, Minter says she’s enjoying the online, self-paced format and learning about the physiology of breastfeeding. 

Minter plans to use her training to support their patient population at Community of Hope. Additionally, she says she’d like to make lactation education and support more accessible to those living in Prince George County, Md., as families often need to travel outside the county for community-based support. 

Minter encourages readers to follow Community of Hope on social media. Their breastfeeding classes are open to the general public. The organization also accepts donations of supplies for families like diapers, maternity clothing and books. Check out their wishlist here and learn about other ways to support their work here.  



LCTC participant rewrites cultural norms with “Afrofuturist healing modalities”

As you focus on clearing your generational trauma, do not forget to claim your generational strengths. Your ancestors gave you more than just wounds.” — Xavier Dagba

 

Audrey Gentry-Brown, Full Spectrum Birth Sista, Certified Blactation Educator (CBE), Student Midwife, and Medicine Woman in Loudoun County, Va. often found herself asking why?

While present at her sisters’ childbirth experiences, she couldn’t help but question the medical interventions imposed on their bodies. “Why aren’t these doctors allowing their bodies to do what they were designed to do?” she wondered. 

Audrey, hailing from a family with maternal origins in the Southern United States and paternal roots in Jamaica, noticed a stark difference in breastfeeding customs. In the U.S., it appeared that nobody from her maternal lineage embraced breastfeeding, while in Jamaica, it was a widespread tradition.The puzzle deepened when she observed the aversion of many Black women to breastfeeding. 

Just as she diligently tends to her garden, Audrey embarked on a quest for answers and is now sharing the abundance of knowledge she has cultivated.

In her own words, she is rewriting cultural norms within her community, introducing “Afrofuturist healing modalities” that reconnect to “ancestral magic.”

“I engage in this work to revive and reclaim the traditions that we have abandoned. I advocate for, educate, and guide our women through a system that often neglects our needs. My dream is for us to give birth as our foremothers did, within the comfort of our homes, surrounded by love,” Audrey passionately explains.

She says she sees a glimmer of hope in the growing trend of families choosing to reclaim their traditional birthing practices by opting for out-of-hospital births, which grants them greater control and the ability to curate their birth experience.

Having recently been awarded the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship, she is currently pursuing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) and continually equipping herself with knowledge to assist her community in addressing deeply ingrained trauma related to infant feeding.

Audrey points out a concerning statistic: Black women are more likely to face in-hospital formula introduction (Echols, 2019), along with other marketing tactics targeting them.

“I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way,” she declares.

Moreover, she is dedicated to educating families about traditional practices like babywearing, which encourages breastfeeding and responsive parenting.

In her quest to preserve cultural traditions, Audrey invokes an African proverb: “When an elder dies, a library burns down.” She urges people to reach out to the matriarchs and patriarchs in their families, seeking knowledge of their ancestral customs, and ultimately, to revive, safeguard, and uphold those traditions.

To support Audrey’s mission, you can explore her apothecary or enlist her birthwork services to contribute to her efforts to gather supplies for her future midwifery practice.

LCTC participant is a catalyst for change

Natasha Aldridge has endured two laparoscopic surgeries and induced menopause to treat stage four endometriosis. Through it all, she found herself bouncing from doctor to doctor, looking for ways to manage pain and to get answers. The process was all-consuming, forcing her to exit nursing school prematurely.

“I was very unhappy with myself,” Aldridge shares. “I felt like my body was broken.” 

Eventually, struggling through the personal challenges, Aldridge identified the larger forces at play. 

“I realized how maternal health needed to be easier to navigate and more accessible,” she comments.

Now, Aldridge works as what she calls a Perinatal Professional and Maternal Ambassador. Her business, Natural Queen Essentials, supports feminine wellness from the first menstrual cycle through menopause. Her collective work includes facilitating holistic wellness options,  Trauma Informed Doula Trainings through Cocolife.black  and volunteering for The MOM’s Tour (Maternal Outcomes Matter)  to provide information on lactation and the importance of doulas.

Aldridge is also an Advanced Prison Doula  with Ostara Initiative where she supports women in local jails and helps to educate staff about milk expression and storage. She partners with The Diverse Birth Collective, Project Empower and  Virginia Prison Birth Project to facilitate peer support groups, prenatal yoga and the transport of milk.  Currently, only six states “have laws with written policies on breastfeeding and lactation support for incarcerated postpartum people in the U.S,” according to the National University-Based Collaborative on Justice-Involved Women & Children (JIWC)

Aldridge is one of the most recent individuals to earn the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship, and she says her studies through the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) have already helped her help others like cheering on incarcerated moms and babies during their first latch.  

“It’s a domino effect,” she says. “The more knowledge I provide through peer support, the more information will pass through the justice system.” 

Aldridge was drawn to the LCTC because she found she lacked the ability to provide lactation and breastfeeding support. She shares that she “easily gave up breastfeeding” with her two daughters, because she was never educated on the impact of infant feeding. None of the women in her family breastfed either. Aldridge struggled through postpartum mood disorders (PPMDs) too.

“I didn’t have the capacity to even know where to begin,” she says. Like so many mothers, Aldridge’s language pins herself as the responsible one for not breastfeeding, when in reality, breastfeeding is not a one-woman job and requires greater systemic supports.  

The LCTC is illuminating many details about infant feeding and its history, Aldridge shares. She says she’s finding the counseling portion “excellent as well” and is able to apply the strategies to all areas of her career. 

“Knowing the background and the science is pulling everything together in my whole journey,” she says.

In the beginning of September, Aldridge spent time on Capitol Hill with Mom Congress learning about policy making and how to tell stories to help influence legislation important to families, one of the elements essential to improving infant feeding practices in the U.S.  

Aldridge was also recently honored with the Catalyst of Change award from Endo Black, Inc.–a Black women-led advocacy group founded by Lauren Kornegay for Black women living with endometriosis– which “recognizes an ambitious leader and influential person in the endometriosis community… [who] engages the community in a meaningful and high-impact way.”

Aldridge’s ambition and accomplishments are certainly ones to celebrate, but she says that it’s all bigger than herself. 

You can support Aldridge’s work by following her on social media @naturalqueenessentials. Watch for the release of an in-the-works newsletter for another way to get connected.



Full spectrum doula facilitates multilateral programming to support BIPOC breastfeeding

When Meah El, SFW, TCP, CBE, a Full-Spectrum Doula, Education Specialist, Doula Team Leader and Cribs for Kids Coordinator at The Foundation for Delaware County, was just eight years old, she landed her first job. On summer trips to New England, El would help her aunt in her in-home daycare.  When her aunt gave birth to a premature baby in her late forties, El was the only one her aunt trusted in helping out with the baby.

“I always say that my career found me,” El reflects.

She stayed on this early education career path, later working with Maternity Care Coalition as an Early Head Start advocate. Through this work, she became trained as the first doula at their site.

“I loved it ever since,” she says. “Birth work is the crème de la crème.”

El remembers one of her first clients, a 15-year-old mother, and struggles to put into words just how amazing it felt to help a birthing mother.

To enhance her ability to support lactating and breastfeeding clients, El took a breastfeeding course with Nikki Lee  and now, she is one of the latest recipients to earn the Accessing the Milky Way scholarship which covers the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). A colleague of hers is also working through the LCTC, so they have scheduled a weekly meet up to review the course material together.

El is dedicated to helping BIPOC families reach their breastfeeding goals and dedicated to improving overall health within BIPOC communities through healthy infant feeding.

While Chester and Delaware counties have relatively high breastfeeding initiation rates, the overall infant feeding culture “hushes” breastfeeding, and BIPOC families are up against barriers to breastfeeding like lack of education, familial support, and skilled lactation care, as El explains.

During Black Breastfeeding Week (BBW) 2023, El facilitated a celebration complete with henna artists, reiki sessions, infant foot massage, aromatouch hand massages for parents, brunch and a breastfeeding photo shoot. El will curate the images from the photo shoot into an art installation during next year’s BBW celebration.

Moreover, El is working to establish a lactation cafe, a peer breastfeeding support group run by breastfeeding champions in the community, and mini trainings for staff at The Foundation.

Logo by Meah El

In order to combat breastfeeding misinformation on social media, El will create social media “shorts” with practical breastfeeding information that will be disseminated through the organizations channels. El is also in the process of working with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to recognize breastfeeding-friendly businesses.

All of these efforts are part of El’s goal to create a supportive environment around breastfeeding.

“If there’s no community support and no support at home, [the system] is built to fail,” El begins. “I want everyone to win.”

El encourages Our Milky Way readers to share their breastfeeding photos on social media and tag #delcobreastfeeds in order to normalize breastfeeding. She also reminds readers to explore the multitude of programs available at The Foundation for Delaware County. You can contact El directly for direction.