Where are they now? Lessons from ruins with Carin Richter RN, MSN, APN-BC, IBCLC, CCBE

Photo by Aykut Eke on Unsplash

The peafowl is a bird known for attracting attention. Whether flaunting their colorful, unfurled plumage or delivering a resounding cry, peafowl are undoubtedly expressive, insistent creatures.

Occasionally, when Healthy Children Project’s Carin Richter, RN, MSN, APN-BC, IBCLC, CCBE hosts Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) competencies from her Florida home, a curious peacock will poke its head into the frame of the video call demanding attention from her and the participants. 

“The big inquisitive bird insists on being part of the session on breastfeeding!” Richter exclaims.  

Since we featured her last, Richter has fully retired from her responsibilities at St. Anthony’s Medical Center in Rockford, Ill. and now helps facilitate the online LCTC once a week.

Our Milky Way caught up with Richter this winter as part of our Where are they now? series. 

Now 70 years old, Richter shares with a stirring of anger, worry and dismay in her tone: “Women’s health… We are in crisis mode. I’m personally struggling with any kind of optimism.”

She cites a few culprits: a political climate that tolerates division and disrespect, the marginalization of maternal child health issues, and the stripping of rights as marked by the reversal of Roe v. Wade. 

From these ruins, Richter has constructed several lessons. For one, she implores us to become politically involved. 

“Keep women’s issues right smack dab in the conversation,” she advises. “Look around. Search out areas where you can sit at that decision making table.” 

Political involvement, Richter suggests, can come in the form of participating on a shared governance board, community advisory boards, church councils, and rotary clubs. Engagement doesn’t need to look like shaking hands with the mayor. 

She continues, “My friends always say, ‘Oh Carin, you never have one conversation without the word breast coming through.’ We need to live that! Because if we don’t we’re going to lose what we have.”

Photo by Nicole Arango Lang on Unsplash

In other words, be a peafowl. Demand attention. 

Richter lays out what happens when we don’t. 

During her nursing career, Richter and her colleagues’ involvement with the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) eventually gave rise to seven hospitals in her area being designated by 2013. As of 2022, only one of those hospitals had retained their designation. 

“Because there was no one sitting at the decision making table speaking for the initiative,  administration lost sight of it and breastfeeding took a back seat or perhaps didn’t have a seat at all,” Richter reflects. “No one spoke of keeping breastfeeding issues in the forefront. It’s an experience that brings me to tears.”

Another insight she’s gained is the difficulty in beginning and sustaining a community-based lactation business. She watched friends with solid business plans, well-researched proposals, and passionate ambitions to help dyads get crushed by lack of insurance reimbursement, lack of mentorship and lack of collaboration.

“We need a lot of work on that front,” Richter comments. 

She suggests a reimagination of the way lactation services are viewed where insurances and companies recognize the importance of breastfeeding and elevate lactation support to a professional state. 

For instance, while working at the hospital, Richter brainstormed ways to give value to and justify the services of in-house lactation care providers. She found that postpartum breastfeeding support offered in-hospital  resulted in a marked increase in patient satisfaction scores. A creative solution suggested that  initial lactation and breast care be embedded in the room rate available for all patients, not billed as a separate line item, allowing for a higher reimbursement rate, Richter explains.  

Photo by Hannah Barata: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-having-skin-to-skin-contact-with-her-newborn-baby-19782322/

After retirement from the clinical setting, Richter cared for her aging parents. She says she felt the pinch many women of today experience as they juggle personal, familial and work responsibilities.

As she lived the struggle to find workable solutions for the care of her elder parents, she says she was surprised to find that barriers were similar to those she encountered while working for change in the community surrounding breastfeeding. For both, breastfeeding and elder care, resources are often limited, frequently expensive, and often inaccessible or unavailable.

Her focus now has broadened from maternal child health advocacy to the broader realm of family care issues. She finds herself
advocating for maternal child health and family care issues like pay equity and affordable child care.

“The struggle continues across the continuum, in arenas frequently dominated by women who bear the majority of responsibility,” Richter reflects. 

Despite a sometimes discouraging climate, Richter says she sees “little bright spots” here and there. 

“Not a week goes by that I don’t have a [medical professional] seeking lactation credentialing… I am thrilled with this,” she begins.  The practitioners seeking lactation credentials are not only specializing in women’s health; instead they’re an interdisciplinary group of folks, a sign that breastfeeding and lactation care is breaking free from siloed confines.  

“This is what keeps me excited,” Richter says. “More knowledgeable, eager voices speaking for mothers and babies.” 

Looking back, Richter remembers when it caused a fight to require lactation credentialing for OB nurses. 

“We got so much backlash not only from administration but from OB nurses themselves,”  Richter recounts. “Some OB nurses took no ownership of lactation. ‘That’s the lactation counselors’ job,’ they would claim.”

In this culture, Richter pointed out that trauma nurses are required to be trauma certified, oncology nurses  are required to be oncology certified; why were OB nurses not required to be certified in lactation when it’s such a large portion of their work?

“It was a bit of an eye opener,” Richter says. 

Retrieved from ALPP. Used with permission.

Now almost all hospital OB nurses need to be certified within the first one to two years of hire, and Richter says she’s encouraged by the ever-increasing number of OB nurses she speaks with weekly who are seeking breastfeeding certification and are supported by their department managers.

As for physicians certified in lactation, an already developed template existed. The state of Illinois had issued a Perinatal state wide initiative to mandate that all anesthesiologists caring  for pregnant patients were to be certified in Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP). All obstetricians soon followed. Richter says her wish would be that the template could extend to mandating lactation credentials to all professionals caring for pregnant and breastfeeding families.

Another bright spot Richter’s noticed are the larger, private sector industry and private employers in the Midwest offering adequate workplace lactation accommodations and services  that go beyond what is mandated by law. 

Moreover, Richter continues to be  impressed by the work that the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) is doing, namely increasing momentum for workplace protections across the nation.

Though she adds, “The spirit is really strong, but the body is really weak. Getting the body to make the decisions and the policies is difficult.” 

Retrieved from ALPP. Used with permission.

Yet another area of encouragement is the inroad made into the recognition of perinatal mood disorders (PMD). Acknowledging that there is always room for improvement, Richter extols the improvements in detection, treatment and the lightened stigma around PMDs.  

Richter shares on a final note that while maternal child health issues have been largely well promoted and mostly supported in the last decade, she hopes to see more emphasis and energy put into the protection leg of the triad. That will require involvement in the work of policy change at the institution, community, state and national level. Policy development and change is the first stepping stone, she advises. 

“Do not be afraid of policies, because policies have power,” Richter states.  “Get involved and find your place at the decision making table.That’s your homework assignment for the year!” 



Where are they now? Checking in with Stephanie Hutchinson of the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network (ABN)

In May 2016, Stephanie Hutchinson (then Carroll), MBA, BS, IBCLC  and a few of her colleagues launched the Appalachian Breastfeeding Network (ABN), “dreaming that one day [Appalachian] parents would have the access to lactation care that they deserve.”

In just one year, the network grew to 11 states and 250 members. By the time the organization was five years-old, the network  grew “to over 600 members across all 13 states in Appalachia – and beyond!” Today, ABM “continues to grow in its membership, its capacity, and its visibility.” [Retrieved from: https://www.appalachianbreastfeedingnetwork.org/abn-board.html

 

Then

When Our Milky Way first featured Hutchinson in 2017, she said that the exponential growth was not expected, but also not surprising. 

“There was absolutely no organization that grouped Appalachia as a culture, together, to make an impact for change,” she said.

 

 

and now.

Almost a decade later, Hutchinson serves as the President of ABN and Administrator of their 24-Hour Breastfeeding Hotline. She also works in private practice as the owner of Rainbow Mountain Lactation, is an instructor and administrative assistant/media manager for Lactation Education Consultants

This year, ABN will host its first cohort of Appalachian LATCH (Lactation at the Center of Healthcare) Leaders which is their train-the trainer program. With grant funding provided by Gallia American Community Fund of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio (FAO) and the I’m a Child of Appalachia Fund®, they will offer 20 scholarships for registration to the course. 

Many years ago, before the birth of her daughters, Hutchinson shared that she never anticipated doing the work she’s been engaged in, but as we often say, “All roads lead to breastfeeding.” Now, reflecting on the most significant change she’s noticed in maternal child health in the last decade, Hutchinson says, “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have noticed more inclusivity in education and support for all families. I am happy to see such wonderful changes to include everyone who is lactating.” 

And the most helpful lesson she has learned along the way is to say ‘no’. 

“This has probably been my hardest lesson learned, but there is only one of me and I know I cannot do all the things,” she reflects. “It’s okay to refer out to someone else, say no to a speaking gig, not go to every conference possible, and take care of myself. Once I learned this hard lesson, I noticed I am able to give more to my clients and my own family…I know that I am not the lactation consultant for every person and humbling yourself to collaborate with others will help your practice tremendously.”

Photo by Elijah Mears on Unsplash

Looking forward, Hutchinson says: “In 10 years, I hope Appalachian Breastfeeding Network has been able to grow enough to fit more into our budget and reach more parents, especially in those areas with little to no lactation support. It is my vision to duplicate our hotline and make it sustainable and available to anyone, anytime, for as long as possible. On a personal front, I hope to see my kids happy and thriving as adults and live out our empty nester lives.” 



Tips for infusing equity into philanthropy

In April, we reported on a thread that came up during the Black Birth Maternal & Infant Health Symposium: capitalism and how it influences health equity.

This month, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) hosted Philanthropy with an Equity Lens featuring Dr. Cara V. James of Grantmakers in Health.

Photo by Jon Tyson

For those who couldn’t attend, there will be a recording sent to registrants. And if you missed registration, we’ve distilled the conversation in hopes that you’ll use it as a jumping-off point in your discovery or continued understanding of operationalizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) or what is sometimes referred to as J.E.D.I. (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion).

First off, USBC Senior Engagement & Training Manager Denae Schmidt and Dr. James made the distinction between operationalizing DEI and advancing health equity. Simply put, the former is the practice and the latter is the outcome. Dr. James suggested participants think of the distinction as the difference between who is doing the work and who is being served.

So, what practices are philanthropists adopting in order to serve the advancement of health equity?

  • Funders are reevaluating what is truly needed from grantseekers. Many are making the application process less tedious, acknowledging that many small organizations do not have the resources to “jump through hoops.”
  • Some funders are forgoing reporting requirements, adopting the concept of trust-based philanthropy.  Trust-based philanthropy embraces the idea that the community has a lot of expertise, as Dr. James puts it. In this relationship, there is trust in the collaboration, a power share. Dr. James nods to MacKenzie Scott who tends to vet organizations on the front end in order to understand their focus, and then give funding with no strings attached.
  • Over the past five or so years, there has been a shift in the field to recognize that there needs to be more capacity-building for grant seekers. Catchafire is a “network of volunteers, nonprofits, and funders working together to solve urgent problems and lift up communities” offering pro bono services. Find out how that works here: https://vimeo.com/462743914
  • Dr. James reports that more people are starting to recognize that policy is an important piece in health equity. She said that we need to get “upstream” to address health disparities which means that we need to address the structures that lead to poor outcomes in conjunction with providing resources to organizations.

 

What are some tips for grant seekers?

Photo by Tim Mossholder
  • Grantseekers can check funders’ websites for statements on commitments to DEI to make sure it’s a good fit for them. Grantseekers might also research what other projects funders have supported to get a sense of what kind of work they invest in.
  • Grantseekers might consider inviting potential funders to their events in order to engage with the community. Dr. James suggests not approaching the first meeting with funders with an “ask”.
  • Work alongside and across spaces to pool resources like talent and time. Collaboration expands reach, and this is desirable to funders.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to funders to get more information about how proposals can align more with their commitment.

Schmidt and Dr. James closed with some thoughts on why good intentions just aren’t good enough. Mainly, good intentions don’t always lead to action, Dr. James pointed out. And sometimes, she added, they can lead to harmful action. She reminded us that we didn’t start talking about health equity in 2020. These discussions had been happening long before, and what has been missing are the resources and the support in leadership.

What leadership talks about in public and in private signals what they care about, Dr. James continued. Individuals leading DEI initiatives need to have the authority and the respect to make decisions.

So, generally speaking, what can we all do to help operationalize DEI?

  • Take the courageous stand to commit to DEI.
  • Facilitate the collection and evaluation of DEI initiatives, so that we can gain an understanding of what is happening in these spaces.
  • Enter spaces with cultural humility. Recognize who is already in the space and what you can learn from them.

The enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge

I’ve been following this conversation started by the Grammar Girl:

“I was a guest on a podcast where kids asked two people questions to decide who was the fake and who was the real expert.

The host said that early on, the kids thought the fake was the expert every time because the actors answered every question confidently, and the experts would hedge or even sometimes say, ‘I don’t know.’

They eventually told the fakes to be less confident so the kids would have a chance of picking the expert sometimes.”

The Grammar Girl’s post was making a point specifically about ChatGPT, but the sentiment can be applied more generally, and in our case to the field of lactation and other perinatal care providers.

Some of my favorite comments on the Grammar Girl’s post include:

Never trust an expert who isn’t willing to admit that they don’t know.

Experts know that there are sometimes variables or gray areas, thus they don’t answer in terms of absolutes.

That makes me think of how an intelligent person (possibly an expert in something) is still curious and open minded enough to not always be sure of everything. 

Those who are experts, look before they leap, stop before they comment, ask for help and do their research. Saying ‘I do not know’ is a strength.

It reminds me of the quote: ‘The enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.’ 

Individuals on the perinatal care team can get stuck in a rut where humility is absent, and this can become dangerous for their patients. 

Debra Bingham of PQI, in a recent newsletter, reminds us of physiologic humility.

Bingham writes:

“Perinatal health professionals work tirelessly to provide the best care they can. Unfortunately, sometimes we get stuck performing “strong but wrong” routines. For example, we have centuries of evidence to tell us that physiologic birth practices are key to having the best outcomes. Yet, too often we do not practice what I like to call physiologic humility. Humility that the physiology of a woman’s body before, during, and after giving birth is complex and typically works well on its own. Thus, we should proceed with physiologic humility because there are so many limitations in our knowledge of the complex physiologic processes related to birth …

As perinatal health professionals it is our responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that women in our care get to experience Mother’s Day. Especially this month, may we all continue to keep that in mind and as a top priority.”

In all fields of care, cultural humility must also be maintained. As defined by the National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO), cultural humility (CH) is “a lifelong process of self-reflection, used to better understand the multi-dimensional identities of clients in order to establish and maintain respectful, healthy, and productive relationships.” NACCHO’s Shifting the Care Paradigm Fact Sheet describes how lactation care providers can partner with families and their community to understand individual patients’ cultural background, experience and personal challenges, and specific goals. 

In the U.S., perinatal care is often siloed; however, this trend seems to be evolving as care becomes more collaborative. Collaboration requires all care providers to exercise a level of humility, offering their expertise while respecting and hearing out other members of the care team. Most importantly though, care team members must work together to respect their patient’s wishes and facilitate informed decision making.

“Absolute certainty leaves little room for shared decision-making,” the author of  Humility and the practice of medicine: tasting humble pie points out.

The author later concludes that “the cultivation of humility is often painful and requires a high level of self-awareness and reflective practice.”

A challenge indeed, but worth the effort. Consider “taking a bite” of “humble pie.” [Chochinov, 2010]

Breastfeeding is part of a continuum. 

–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”

Breastfeeding is part of a continuum.

It has been hypothesized that starting around nine weeks of fetal development, the pattern and sequence of intrauterine movements of the fetus seem to be a survival mechanism, which is implemented by the newborn’s patterns of movement during the first hour after birth  (described as the 9 stages)  when skin-to-skin with the mother to facilitate breastfeeding.

Photo credit United States Breastfeeding Committee

This very behavior refutes the idea that breastfeeding is “an adjunct to birth” as it is generally viewed in maternity care settings in America.

Not only are human babies hardwired to progress through 9 stages and self attach to the breast, mammalian bodies are hardwired to produce milk too.

Around 16 weeks of pregnancy, the body starts to prepare for breastfeeding. This phase, called Lactogenesis I is when colostrum begins to be created. During Lactogenesis II, the secretion of copious milk follows the hormonal shift triggered by birth and the placenta delivery. After this phase, milk production must be maintained through a supply-and-demand-like system. [Neville 2001]

Even before a pregnancy is achieved, individuals are being influenced by the infant feeding culture that surrounds them, consciously or subconsciously laying a foundation for how they feel about feeding their own babies.

Pat Hoddinott’s, et al study found that women who had seen successful breastfeeding regularly and perceived this as a positive experience were more likely to initiate breastfeeding.

Exposure to prenatal breastfeeding education also affects breastfeeding outcomes. Irene M. Rosen and colleagues found that women who attended prenatal breastfeeding classes had significantly increased breastfeeding at 6 months when compared to controls.

Photo by Luiza Brain

Mode of birth and birth experiences influence infant feeding too, for both members of the dyad.

A growing body of evidence shows that birth by cesarean section is associated with early breastfeeding cessation.

Intrapartum exposure to the drugs fentanyl and synOT is associated with altered newborn infant behavior, including suckling, while in skin-to-skin contact with mother during the first hour after birth. [Brimdyr, et al 2019]

What’s more, the authors of Intrapartum Administration of Synthetic Oxytocin and Downstream Effects on Breastfeeding: Elucidating Physiologic Pathways found “No positive relationships between the administration of synthetic oxytocin and breastfeeding.” They comment, “Practices that could diminish the nearly ubiquitous practice of inducing and accelerating labor with the use of synthetic oxytocin should be considered when evaluating interventions that affect breastfeeding outcomes.”

Photo by Olivia Anne Snyder on Unsplash

In Transdisciplinary breastfeeding support: Creating program and policy synergy across the reproductive continuum, author Miriam Labbok takes a detailed look at “the power and potential of synergy between and among organizations and individuals supporting breastfeeding, the mother-child dyad, and reproductive health to increase sustainable breastfeeding support.”

Labbok points out that a paradigm shift on the issues in the reproductive continuum – family planning, pregnancy and birthing and breastfeeding– is needed.

“These are issues that are intimately, biologically, gender linked in women’s lives, and yet ones that are generally divided up to be addressed by a variety of different professional disciplines,” Labbok begins.  “Despite the impact of child spacing on birthing success, of birthing practices on breastfeeding success, and of breastfeeding on child spacing, we are offered family planning services by a gynecologist, birth attendance by an obstetrician or midwife, and baby care by a pediatrician. Having these ‘silos’ of care, each with its own paradigm and priorities, may lead to conflicting messages, and hence, may undermine the search for mutuality in goals, and collaboration.”

One such initiative looking to deconstruct siloed care is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative which includes standards and goals for birthing practices, for breastfeeding-friendly communities, and guidance for birth spacing, in addition to reconfirming the original Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, in recognition that breastfeeding occurs along a continuum.

Source: United States Breastfeeding Committee

1,000 Days emphasizes how breastfeeding fits within the global picture as a crucial part of a whole.

In the U.S. context, the 1,000 Days initiative recognizes comprehensive health coverage, comprehensive guidelines on nutrition during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood for women in the first 1,000 days, paid family  and medical leave policy for all workers, and investments to ensure parents and caregivers can access good nutrition as solutions to a well nation and a well world.

 

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As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:

Email info@ourmilkyway.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.

This week, in the body of the email, please share with us some or all of your birth stor(ies).

Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.

We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period.  Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.