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? An update from Nicole Bridges PhD, B Comm (Hons), SFHEA, MPRIA

Then

Amidst trolls who lurk, misinformation that muddies, and insidious marketing,  Nicole Bridges’s PhD, B Comm (Hons), SFHEA, MPRIA (she/her) work illuminates the helpful spaces on the internet. Almost a decade ago, her publication The faces of breastfeeding support: experiences of mothers seeking breastfeeding support online, found that “social networking sites (SNSs) provide support from the trusted community” that is “immediate…practical and valuable…”

In our 2017 coverage, Dr. Bridges pointed out how social media can compliment face-to-face interaction between breastfeeding dyads and lactation care providers, how it can offer moms “access to the collective wisdom of the whole tribe” as opposed to the perspective of one lactation professional, and how it can facilitate social interaction offline.

and now.

Dr. Bridges now serves as the Director of Academic Program for Communication, Creative Industries and Screen Media and is a Senior Lecturer in Public Relations in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at Western Sydney University. For over two decades, she has been a volunteer breastfeeding counselor with the Australian Breastfeeding Association.

We’re pleased to have caught up with Dr. Bridges as she reflects on the past and future.

Q: What is the most significant change you’ve noticed in maternal child health in the last decade?

A: The increased use and evolution of social media tools to support breastfeeding. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified this and demonstrated how useful social media and online communities can be to supporting families in times of need.

Q: What is the most helpful/profound lesson you have learned about maternal child health in the last decade?

A: That (unfortunately) there is still so much more work to be done and that volunteer peer support organisations like the Australian Breastfeeding Association are needed more than ever before.

Q: Is there a current project, organization, initiative, endeavor or trend in lactation and breastfeeding that excites you most?

A: It will be interesting to see how the introduction and evolution of AI tools can be used to support breastfeeding into the future.

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for the next generation of maternal child health advocates?

A: Always place the parents and children at the centre of everything you do.

Q: Where do you envision yourself in the next 10 years?

A: I do hope that I am still a volunteer peer counsellor 10 years from now and that I can still continue to support breastfeeding families in this role and as a researcher in this area.

Check out Dr. Bridges’ publications since her work was last featured on Our Milky Way:

  • Rowbotham, S., Marks, L., Tawia, S., Woolley, E., Rooney, J., Kiggins, E., Healey, D., Wardle, K., Campbell, V., Bridges, N. and Hawe, P. (2022), ‘Using citizen science to engage the public in monitoring workplace breastfeeding support in Australia’, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, vol 33, no 1 , pp 151 – 161.

  • Bridges, N., Howell, G. and Schmied, V. (2019), ‘Creating online communities to build positive relationships and increase engagement in not-for-profit organisations’, Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal, vol 20 .

  • Bridges, N., Howell, G. and Schmied, V. (2018), ‘Breastfeeding peer support on social networking sites’, Breastfeeding Review, vol 26, no 2 , pp 17 – 27.

African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) is outside and celebrating connection and community

Photo by Criativa Pix Fotografia

For 15 years, the African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN) has been leading and immersed in integral work to improve maternal child health outcomes in the Greater Milwaukee area.

AABN was founded by Angelia Wilks-Tate and Dalvery Blackwell who set out to  address breastfeeding disparities through a community-led organization. Blackwell now serves as the organization’s first executive director and Wilks-Tate serves as the President of the Board Directors.

Photo by julio andres rosario ortiz

AABN hosts healing spaces for birth workers, facilitates doula trainings including the HealthConnect One community doula training and WeRISE Community Doula Program, celebrates father involvement, holds space for bereaved parents, fights for birth and reproductive justice, and more and more and more. Simply visit their Facebook page and you’ll catch a glimpse of the passion, the wisdom, comradery, fun, and the dedication. You can also read about their 2020 impact here.

Yesterday, the organization and its partners hosted their ninth annual  Lift Up Every Baby! Celebration.  Lift Up Every Baby “is all about the blissful happiness we experience when our community comes together to celebrate, securing our collective power to help create spaces of health and wellness!” the organization shared with their social media followers. Pregnant people and young families were invited to experience a community-drive and  “family-centered afternoon of festivities, celebrations, good food and positive vibes.”

The event fit perfectly into Black Breastfeeding Week’s (BBW) 2023 theme: We Outside! Celebrating Connection & Our Communities.

https://blackbreastfeedingweek.org/

Perhaps one of the most touching moments of each year’s event is the opening ceremony made possible by Zakiya Courtney celebrating participants’ cultural heritage and values.

You can check out footage from last year’s event here and stay tuned for reports from this year’s celebration here.

Respectful maternity care: the problem and suggested solutions

Guest  post by Donna Walls, RN, BSN, CLC, ANLC with intro by jess fedenia, clc

 

Donna Walls’s, RN, BSN, ICCE, IBCLC, ANLC unmedicated births were sort of a fluke.

“I remember being horribly afraid of someone sticking a needle in my back,” she recalls.

The “glorious” feelings of confidence and joy were unexpected consequences, but thinking back, Donna says, “Boy, I am sure glad I [gave birth that way.]”

In all other aspects of parenting, Walls credits growing up in the 1960s for becoming a self-described Granola Mom.

“When everything went ‘back to nature’, that was a big influencer for me,” she says.

As a nurse, Walls was always drawn to maternity care and supporting breastfeeding as the natural progression after giving birth.

It felt thorny to her when babies were taken to the transition nursery immediately after birth and later given back to their mothers.

This ritual sent the message that “We (as in the staff) can take better care of your baby than you (as in the mother) can.” That never sat right with Walls.

Then, one pivotal moment in particular, Walls on duty in the transition nursery, walked by a baby only a couple of hours old.

“He was frightened,” Walls begins. “His lip was quivering and he was splayed out underneath the warmer. He was so frightened. It just affected me.”

After that, Walls galvanized to change the culture in this hospital. She worked very hard alongside a physician colleague to open a birth center within the hospital. In 1995, Family Beginnings at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton, Ohio was unveiled, offering families an option where birth wasn’t pathologized and where mothers and babies were honored as dyads. (Birthing at Family Beginnings remains an option for those in the Dayton area today.)

The center was designed to look like a home. There was no nursery for babies to be separated from their parents. When mothers came in to labor, the staff would pop in bread to bake, a special touch of aromatherapy.

Freshly baked bread, though enticing, wasn’t the number one reason families signed up to birth here. Instead, they chose Family Beginnings because they didn’t want their babies taken away from them, Walls reports.

Walls has since retired from her work in the hospital, but respectful maternity care remains forward in her mind and in her advocacy.

She graces us with reflections on respectful maternity care in her guest post this week on Our Milky Way. Read on!

******

As a nurse in maternity for over 40 years, I have too often witnessed what I refer to as the “empty vessel theory”. Women are regarded as merely a container for the fetus and care providers merely the technician to remove it, usually as quickly as possible. I have often been saddened when the emotions and spirituality of birthing are disregarded or even mocked. This miraculous process is a rite of passage with all the inherent pain, joy, lessons and connections needed to begin the journey into parenting. My hope is that through discussions and activism, we can reach a point where the birthing family is honored and all newborns are brought into the world with love and respect.

Photo by João Paulo de Souza Oliveira: https://www.pexels.com/photo/gray-scale-photo-of-a-pregnant-woman-3737150/

Respect is “showing regard for the feelings, wishes, rights or traditions of others”. Concerningly, there is an abundance of anecdotes from patients and caregivers that demonstrate how maternity care practices are often disrespectful, sometimes even abusive.

Disrespectful care encompasses racial inequity, lack of confidentiality, physical and/or emotional abuse, denial of care or provision of substandard care, lack of informed consent or coercion or condescending communications. This type of care occurs in all countries around the world, to all demographics of women and their families. Fortunately, disrespectful care has drawn the attention of many health organizations, including the World Health Organization, and steps are being taken to stop disrespectful, abusive care practices.

Examining the intersection of maternity care and human rights has been a recent topic in many maternal and infant care advocacy groups as well. We cannot assume that hospital admission for an appendectomy is equal to admission for the birth of a baby. This is because  the scope of the process of birthing impacts a person, a family, a community and a nation which is not so of a surgical procedure.

Most women and families expect they will receive safe, inclusive, compassionate care and trust their caregivers to provide prenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care with honest communication and respect for their needs and choices. Provision of safe care should look beyond the basics of preventing maternal, fetal or neonatal morbidity or mortality and consider how to support the family’s human rights– rights inherent to all people, without discrimination, regardless of age, nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language or any other status. (White Ribbon Alliance, 2020)

Photo by Dipu Shahin DS: https://www.pexels.com/photo/baby-in-pink-and-white-blanket-4050647/

The first stated right is to be free from harm and mistreatment, yet we find continuing cases of physically and emotionally abusive treatment of pregnant and birthing women. Secondly is the right to competent, culturally sensitive care for both mother and newborn.  Next is  the right to companionship and support, and lastly the right to meet the basic life-sustaining needs of the dyad, including breastfeeding support for the newborn.

The first step toward respectful care is choosing  healthcare providers who value open, honest communication and who will discuss options and listen to the family’s needs and concerns. WHO defines respectful communication as communication which  “aims to put women at the centre of care, enhancing their experience of pregnancy and ensuring that babies have the best possible start in life.” (WHO, 2018)

Other components of respectful communication include the use of positive body language, active listening, the use of non-judgmental language, assuring patient privacy and honoring physical and emotional needs.  Respectful communication can begin with simply referring to the person by the name they prefer. If it is not documented, ask.

Another important step is selecting the birthing place. (Niles, 2023) Most care providers practice at one to two hospitals or birth centers. Choosing the birthing environment is an important decision in creating a birth experience which is in line with the family’s expectations and goals. Research and discussions with childbirth educators, lactation care providers and other families can give insights into common or routine practices at that institution. Will the family’s requests be honored? Will questions be answered with open and honest informed consent? Will the birthing and breastfeeding practices support their goals? These are all questions that need to be answered before a birthing place decision is made.

Creating an environment of respectful care in the birthing place is foundational. It is care that assures women and their families will be regarded as capable of making decisions. Making decisions which respect the values and unique needs of the birthing woman can only be made when patient autonomy– the right of patients to make decisions about their medical care without their health care provider trying to influence the decision–  is recognized.

Photo by Rebekah Vos on Unsplash

Individuals often comment on birthing in the hospital as a time when you lose all modesty; however, it is possible to follow protocols that set a standard for assuring privacy and modesty which can positively impact the birth experience. Simple steps like not discussing patient history or current conditions in front of others (without the patient’s permission), being mindful of covering intimate body parts (or culturally sensitive covering) whenever possible, asking permission before touching or knocking (and waiting for a response) before entering the room are a huge part of maintaining patient dignity. It cannot be overstated that any cultural requirements for modesty must be respected at all times.

More on respect in health care on Our Milky Way here, here and here.

Other recommended resources 

The International MotherBaby Childbirth Initiative (IMBCI) A Human Rights Approach to Optimal Maternity Care

Inclusive, supportive and dignified maternity care (SDMC)-Development and feasibility assessment of an intervention package for public health systems: A study protocol.

The Giving Voice to Mothers study: inequity and mistreatment during pregnancy and childbirth in the United States.

Exploring Evidence for Disrespect and Abuse in Facility‐based Childbirth: Report of a Landscape Analysis

 

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.