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.” 



The breastfeeding-friendly baby shower

My oldest daughter was perusing through her baby book the other night and discovered an exhaustive list of the gifts we’d received at my baby showers. Without dismissing how incredibly generous our guests were, looking back, I’d deem 90 percent of the items we received (many of which I’d registered for) useless.

Then I remembered a dear friend of mine who participated in and later facilitated a wonderful, meaningful baby sprinkle activity.

Photo by Townsend Walton

The invitation’s poem read:

Bring two matching beads 

We’ll put them on a string

For Super Mom _____ to the hospital to bring (tweak for other birthing spaces)

Armed with our bead string, she’ll have our thoughts near 

When she brings forth a child…. So dear! 

One of the beads was strung onto a necklace for the mother and the other beads were strung onto bracelets for the guests to wear until the baby was born as a way to send prayers or manifest positivity during pregnancy, birth and beyond.

How I wish I had an artifact such as this to cherish in exchange for the heaps of plastic I’d acquired at my shower!

Now, as a baby shower guest, as tempting as darling baby outfits and beautifully printed blankets are, I generally opt for gifting some of my favorite breastfeeding books like Gill Rapley’s Baby-Led series. Knowledge is an incredible gift and it will never make its way to a landfill.

Pondering more about meaningful gifts for expecting parents and their babies, I got to thinking about how the baby shower is a microcosm of parenting culture. The avalanche of baby bottles, pacifiers, swaddling blankets and other gadgets and technology instigate detachment from baby rather than bonding. So, this week, we’ve compiled suggestions on how to make a baby shower breastfeeding-friendly along with ways to use this celebration as a source of education for parents and their guests.

 

Affirmation activity 

Provide seed paper or other stationary for guests to record birth and breastfeeding affirmations to be gifted to parents.

Photo by Ermias Tarekegn

Breastfeeding in pop culture game 

Show clips of breastfeeding and parenting in pop culture and ask participants to name that show. Some examples:  General Hospital, Sesame Street, Modern Family, Blackish, The Office, Rugrats, Mr. Rogers (around 3 minutes into video)

Feeding cues game

This feeding cues game can be adapted for baby shower guests. Not only is it important for new parents to recognize feeding cues, other caregivers need to understand when it’s ideal to feed the baby as well. If those attending the shower understand feeding cues, they’ll know just when to hand back the baby to be fed!

Help for parents sign up 

Use the baby shower gathering to post a meal train, house chores, or childcare for older siblings sign up sheet. You could also use this opportunity to gather other helpful postpartum resources.

Decorating and desserts

Swap baby bottles and other gadgets for breasts.  Please note, it is advised to exercise care when dealing with breast models in childbirth and breastfeeding education as the symbolic dismembering of the female body can carry powerful negative messages, and the same care should be considered in this case. That said, these colorful, cloth breasts could be used to decorate or given out as party favors!

Try making breast cupcakes in all shapes and sizes or these fun cookies for a special treat.

Breastfeeding bingo and other lactation games

These breastfeeding bingo sheets adapted by the Missouri Dept. of Health & Senior Services could be easily tweaked for a baby shower game. Many of the activities presented in Linda J. Smith’s Coach’s Notebook: Games and Strategies for Lactation Education can also be adapted.

Try this kahoot game here or create your own breastfeeding-friendly questions. Participants can play from their smartphones.

Phone tree game

The Grandmothers’ Tea curriculum has several interactive learning activities. The phone tree activity in particular can be adapted for a baby shower game with points and prizes.

Feed me game 

Similar to popular taste testing games at baby showers, this game was inspired by Gill Rapley’s activity at an International Breastfeeding Conference to bring attention to babies’ autonomy.

Ask participants to partner up. Set out several pureed baby food jars in front of each pair. Each partner takes a turn spoon-feeding the mush to their partner. Open up  a discussion about what it was like to be the feeder and what it was like to be fed. For more information about baby-led weaning visit https://www.ourmilkyway.org/the-baby-led-way/.

Books

It is becoming increasingly popular for books to be requested in lieu of cards.

The invitation poem often goes:

In lieu of a card, please bring

Your favorite childhood classic.

Let’s build a library for _____

That will be fantastic!

So instead of a card,

to baby and mother,

please give a book,

with your thoughts in the cover.

Photo by Helena Lopes

Consider purchasing a book that depicts and normalizes breastfeeding. Some options include Katie Morag, Noey Loves Nursing, A Mother’s Milk, The Creator’s Gift and First Sacred Food developed by Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council, Inc. (GLITC), or check out this list.

Breastfeeding-friendly cards

If you are interested in sending a card, check out Dr. Tangela L. Boyd’s greeting cards which include text that reads:

“Wishing you all the best and hoping that mom will nourish you with the milk from her breasts.”

“Breastfeeding is a precious gift. Hoping you will receive all the love and nourishment that only mom can give!”

“Now that you are here, enjoy breastfeeding for as long as you and mom desire!”

Find Dr. Boyd’s cards here.

Labor as a labyrinth 

Denise Reynolds, a doula and Birthing From Within Mentor, wrote Labor as a Labyrinth inspired by a Birthing From Within concept developed by Pam England. Pass out or have participants design a labyrinth to follow along with mother’s journey.

Please tell us what other ideas you have for making a baby shower educational and meaningful. You can email us at info@ourmilkyway.org or write in the comments section below.

‘Full pandemic mama’ becomes full spectrum doula

Allysa Singer was, as she describes, a “full pandemic mama.” Singer became pregnant with her first child in the winter of 2019. As she became aware of the threats and the consequences of COVID-19, she started researching her options and her rights in the delivery room she’d find herself in August 2020.

What started as personal preparation– How many support people would she be allowed? Would she be allowed a support person at all? What restrictions would she encounter? How could she advocate for herself? What were her options?–  propelled her into a world of birth support and autonomy advocacy.

“I was just dumbfounded by the disparities that exist in maternal health,” Singer begins.

In 2020, Alabama, where Singer and her family live, had the third-highest Maternal Mortality Rate in the nation, at 36.4 per 100,000 live births.

BIPOC families suffer from massive disparities in maternal and infant deaths. In a recent piece, Childbirth Is Deadlier for Black Families Even When They’re Rich, Expansive Study Finds, Tiffany L. Green, an economist focused on public health and obstetrics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is quoted: “It’s not race, it’s racism…The data are quite clear that this isn’t about biology. This is about the environments where we live, where we work, where we play, where we sleep.”

Still, unlike so many of her peers, Singer reports having had an amazing birth experience.

Inundated by birth horror stories, she decided to change care at 27 weeks in hopes that she would be better supported in her choices at a different institution.

Here, she was allowed a doula and support person to accompany her during her birth.

“Not a lot of women had that luxury,” Singer comments.

Knowing well that birth support is a right and not a luxury, she started her own doula practice in December 2021. 

Singer shares that she experienced severe postpartum depression, but she was able to divert and ultimately reshape this energy into her doula work.

“My doula training was the lifeboat that saved me from drowning in my PPD,” she says.

And now her practice, Faith to Fruition, has become the lifeboat for many of the birthing people Singer supports.

She shares: “I don’t believe that a birther’s desire to have more children should be dictated by their birthing experience. I have heard so many stories from people who had one kid but say, ‘I would never do this again because my experience was so traumatic.’ One of my biggest missions and goals is to support birthers to feel empowered in their process; not as bystanders of their process.”

Singer also holds a full time position as an industrial psychologist where she channels her advocacy work, pushing for organizational change and understanding of proper maternal support.

In fact, as part of a public speaking course for a training curriculum, Singer presented on why it’s important to support breastfeeding. She reports that her audience of roughly 25 was engaged, especially as she pointed out the absurdities of infant feeding culture in our country: How would you feel if I asked you to eat your meal in the bathroom? How would you like to eat with a blanket tossed over your head? for instance.

Singer also points out the “insanely amazing public health outcomes” breastfeeding affords.

If 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths, nearly all of which would be in infants ($10.5 billion and 741 deaths at 80% compliance). [Bartick, Reinhold, 2010]

“Not only is there a personal investment, there is a public investment and value to understanding the larger implications,” Singer comments. “As a taxpayer, [breastfeeding] impacts you; as someone who utilizes our healthcare system, [breastfeeding] impacts you.”

With the recent passing of the PUMP Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act coming soon, Singer says “We still have a long way to go.”

Organizational policy doesn’t support motherhood; instead it fuels detached parenting which goes against nature, Singer goes on.

“Mothers feel the brunt of that more than ever,” she says.  “[We aren’t] supported to be able to care for our children the way that we want to.”

Singer says she sees it as her mission as an organizational psychologist to encourage change that supports parenthood, so that women don’t feel threatened to care for their children the way that they want to. This means ensuring that women are provided with ample space to pump their milk while away from their babies and empowering them to approach HR when there aren’t appropriate accommodations.

“Outside forces shouldn’t be able to dictate how you care for and feed your child. The end of one’s breastfeeding journey should be a personal decision.”

She continues, “It’s amazing that legislation is catching up. The thing that I fear with any law, there are still people behind those laws that have to enforce them and carry them out. Education and garnishing an understanding of what this looks like is a key component to implementation. The people behind those policies have to make them successful, but this is  moving things into a very good direction, and I hope that more changes to legislation follow suit, especially with paid parental leave. It’s a catalyst for change; I am hopeful but cautiously optimistic.”

Singer says she owes her personal success continuing to breastfeed her two-and-a-half year old to Chocolate Milk Mommies, where she now serves as a board member.

Through Chocolate Milk Mommies, Singer started a subcommittee to focus on education for individuals within the breastfeeder’s support system.

“The people in the village need to be supportive. When you don’t know better, you can’t do better,” she explains.

Singer recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) as part of Chocolate Milk Mommies’ mission to best support their constituents and as a way to benefit her doula clients with more well-rounded support.

“I really loved the training because I already thought that our bodies are amazing, but learning more science was great. I would text my friends the ‘Boobie Fact of the Day’,” Singer shares. “[The science] allows me to really appreciate my journey that much more and how impactful I’m being with my daughter.”

You can follow Singer’s work here and here.

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.”