Where are they now? Catching up with Lucy Ellen Towbin, LCSW

Towbin admires her grandchild in this recent photo.

Many of Lucy Ellen Towbin’s, LCSW endeavors are defined by nourishment. By the time she was two, Towbin was producing art and as she has continued to make multimedia art into her 70s, she nourishes her Self. As the eldest of four children, Towbin helped provide for her
younger siblings in their childhood. In her 30s, as a new mother,  she nourished her children.  As a social worker and lactation care provider, she supported other dyads in their infant feeding efforts. Later, Towbin started a business (which has since been sold) that offers clean, dehydrated parrot pellets, so that she and other parrot-owners could escape reliance on industry-produced pet food which usually contains additives and food coloring that parrots are particularly sensitive to.

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Towbin retired from the
Arkansas Health Department, and while she no longer holds her IBCLC
credential, she continues to assist new mothers informally. Towbin now
practices as a part-time therapist for a psychotherapy clinic in
Arkansas.

The last time Towbin graced Our Milky Way was back in 2017 when we
featured the breastfeeding art contest she facilitated through the
Arkansas Breastfeeding Coalition.

We’re pleased to have chatted with Towbin as part of our Where are they
now? series. Responses have been edited for brevity.

 

Towbin poses with Ruth Lawrence roughly a decade ago.

How did you become interested in maternal child health? 

The first job I had at the Department of Health was as the refugee health program coordinator. We worked with mostly refugees from Southeast Asia.  I was really interested in and intrigued  by the difference in how
they were taking care of their children. They slept with their babies, which I’m sure plenty of people in the U.S. still did quietly, but back then, no one was talking about it.
During a panel discussion we once held, a speaker from Laos shared
that his six children born in Laos were breastfed, and the five children
born in the States were bottle-fed. This is when I really became
interested in the cultural aspects that affect infant feeding, and I started
to try to figure out what was going on.

Is there a current trend, project or organization that excites you?

I’m really not that up-to-date about trends in lactation, but what does
excite me are the portable pumps that working moms can wear. A close
friend of my daughter’s is a nurse practitioner and she showed me her
pump that she wears under her white jacket as she walks around seeing
patients. It makes almost no noise and it’s amazing because you don’t
even know that it’s under there. That would’ve been so incredible for me
to have as a working breastfeeding mom.

When I was working outside of the home, it was really difficult; even La
Leche League wasn’t very supportive of working moms at the time. With
my first child, I had a manual pump and my own office, but the pump was
miserable.  It hurt and wasn’t that effective. With my second child, I
stayed home longer with him and then he wouldn’t take a bottle, so I
didn’t do that much pumping. When I went back to work, my mother took
care of him and she lived close to where I was working, so I would nurse
him before work, and then drive back and forth to her house to feed him
about every two hours. It was a lot of back and forth.

What is the most significant change you’ve noticed within maternal child
health?

I have a very small sample size to talk about significant changes. All I
know is from my daughter and her friends. I’ve noticed that there seems
to be less unmedicated births happening in the hospital. I know there are
still a lot of people choosing home birth. But of those having babies in
the hospital, I haven’t heard about anyone doing what I did and having
mine in the hospital, but with no pain medicine or IV or anything.   I was
lucky to find the physicians that I did who went along with my wishes.  I
would expect there would be more supportive physicians now and instead, I don’t hear about any. I do want to reiterate that my observations are based on just a small group.

What is your best piece of advice for the next generation of lactation
care providers?

The most helpful lesson combines my training as both a therapist and
lactation consultant. New mothers need so much emotional support.
They don’t need people to take care of the baby. Bringing food and running errands for them is helpful. But I think what gets overlooked is
how much they need to be told that they’re going to make it, that they will
survive this early period of no sleep, and not knowing if they are doing a
good job. They need reassurance that this difficult time is normal and
they need to be told they will get through this.

My best piece of advice for the next generation is to take a holistic
approach, don’t just emphasize the physical exam. Equally important is
how much sleep the mother is getting,  what she is eating, if she is
getting exercise, if she has family and friends supporting her, if she has a
plan for if she’s going to be working outside of the home. It’s important to
equip new moms with coping strategies like easy breathing exercises or
something when she is feeling stressed that are doable in short time
frames and at home.

Where do you envision yourself in the next decade?

Asking someone my age where I see myself in the next ten years is
basically just hoping I’m still healthy and active! I do all the right things
and have good genes, so I’m on the pathway to that, but you never
know. Appreciate good health and youthful energy if you still have it.

Educator and leadership team member shares breastfeeding experiences, supports lactating colleagues

When the PUMP Act was signed into law last year, it expanded the legal rights of some 9 million more lactating individuals, including teachers, who had been previously excluded from the 2010 Break Time for Nursing Mothers law as it only applied to hourly workers.

But even with the revamped legislation, teachers are in a unique position.

In Jill Inderstrodt’s I Study Breastfeeding Behavior. Here’s Why Nursing Teachers Have It So Tough, she explains: “…The bill’s prescriptions are often at odds with the day-to-day logistics of jobs.”

Inderstrodt goes on, “In many cases, teachers have to choose between finding coverage for their classroom or forgoing pumping. With one or two pumping sessions per day, this could mean finding coverage 40 times a month.”

Stacy Synold is an educator and part of the leadership team at a small, private school in the Midwest. She breastfed all three of her biological children, now 25, 22, and 19, beyond their second birthdays.

“I never thought I would breastfeed as long as I did but I followed their lead and found it to be supportive of my parenting choices,” Synold shares.

She continues, “Breastfeeding was so important for my kids, who all had asthma and allergy issues.  I shudder to think of what their health may have been without nursing. What started as a nutritional imperative for me became some of the most treasured [moments] in my life.  Given that I nursed toddlers and even a near preschooler, they were all very verbal and verbally loving about breastfeeding, and I remember all the little names and words they had for breastfeeding.”

There was “sie-sie” for nursies and “noonies” and “nonnies”.

“One time… my son said, ‘I give hugs to the nurse and hugs to the other nurse,” in reference to breastfeeding, Synold remembers.

As it sometimes is, weaning was a momentous event for Synold’s family. When her daughter was about to turn three, she hosted a weaning party.

“We had pink cupcakes and the whole family celebrated.  She had stopped nursing except for once every few weeks so we decided to support her into her next phase.  We gave her a baby doll to nurse if she wanted to and that was her favorite doll for a long time.”

Besides feeding her own children, Synold pumped her milk for the adopted newborn of a local woman who endured the death of her biological baby a year earlier.

“She had high hopes of relactating, but I very much wanted to help her in the short-term,” Synold says.  For eight weeks, she pumped on a three to four hour schedule.

“It was almost like having a newborn again, and my 18-month-old daughter loved my increased production,” Synold remembers. “I would do it all again to see the smile on that mom’s face each time I delivered the milk!”

Synold served as a La Leche League Leader for nearly a decade under the mentorship of Kay Batt, who has been a LLL leader since 1967.  Batt invited Synold to an evening meeting which turned out to be a meeting with an emphasis of supporting mothers and families who worked outside the home.

“She helped me become a better mom and shared so much knowledge, especially about how to support the unique needs of working families who breastfeed,” Synold reflects.

Since breastfeeding her own babies, Synold has witnessed a shift in infant feeding culture.

She cites being appreciative of the laws passed in protection of breastfeeding and the increase in designated places for mothers to breastfeed in public.

“I wasn’t bashful, but my children were easily distracted and needed a quiet place to nurse],” she begins. “I was kicked out of a restaurant in Mayfair Mall once in 2001 for breastfeeding at the table.  Apparently, men and boys ate there…who knew! I said to the woman who was kicking me out when she stated about men and boys, ‘I know, I am feeding a little boy right now!’”

Because of the nature of her work outside of the home while she was breastfeeding, Synold didn’t find herself in the position of needing workplace accommodations. For instance, as a nanny at one point, she says she was easily able to nurse her son without special accommodation. In a different position, her daughter was two, so she was able to withstand longer stretches without emptying her breasts. Her toddler  would then nurse throughout the night as they coslept.

In her recent leadership roles, Synold facilitates safe lactation spaces for her colleagues.

“I always have a comfy area in my office, I offer flexible schedules and plentiful breaks if needed, and seek better locations,” Synold explains.  “One year, I had seven teachers give birth and my office was the only office with a lock.  I ended up out of my office most of that year, so we gave a locking large closet a makeover for pumping.  I did realize I sometimes needed an office!”

Like Inderstrodt concludes, “If we are going to recruit and retain our teaching workforce under such circumstances, teachers need all the accommodations we can give them. That means that legislation such as the PUMP Act must be accompanied by scheduling accommodations at both the school and district levels so that the legislation for lactating mothers transcends paper.” Even before it was signed into law, Synold has exemplified this support.

Children’s book celebrates the joy of natural-term breastfeeding

Monica Haywood is a researcher by nature. When she became pregnant with her daughter, she read all of the baby books. 

She read about prenatal vitamins, proper nutrition, prenatal appointments, etc., etc., etc. 

“I wanted to do everything right,” Haywood says. 

Sometime during her second trimester, her focus narrowed in on breastfeeding. She was familiar with the stories her mother told about breastfeeding her, but she wanted to know more. Haywood attended La Leche League of Louisville meetings and scoured websites for infant feeding information. 

She felt prepared and laid out a plan to breastfeed her baby for three months. 

“Little did I know, the journey was slightly different,” she laughs. “You can read, read, read, but be prepared to pivot on things that you may have read about.”

Baby Noelle was born in 2017 and instead of breastfeeding for the planned three months, Noelle and Haywood nursed for 34 months. 

Haywood says that while exclusive, natural-term breastfeeding was sometimes challenging like balancing her baby’s needs and self-care and managing other people’s perceptions mostly, breastfeeding created a sense of empowerment and bonding. 

Haywood shared another connection with Noelle through her love of books early on. 

“She was only a couple months old and my husband and I were reading books to her,” she shares. 

“[Reading] helps with language development, and we also thought it was important to find books that she could relate to… characters that look like her and that can relate to her experience,” Haywood continues.  

She found that most children’s breastfeeding books were geared toward weaning, but she was looking for something that celebrates the breastfeeding journey, something that could capture what she and Noelle were doing. 

And when she couldn’t find it, she created it. Haywood wrote Noey Loves Nursing, a colorful book that commemorates her nursing journey, celebrates a diverse character,  and educates and brings awareness to extended breastfeeding. 

“I wish I could get it in the hands of every breastfeeding mother!” Haywood exclaims. 

The book is highly admired by younger readers including her daughter who Haywood says is really excited by the book. 

Another young reader, Blake, shares his reading of Noey Loves Nursing @readingwith_blake

“When I saw [the video],  it literally brought me to tears,” Haywood says. “It’s just awesome.” 

Before COVID-19, Haywood enjoyed sharing Noey Loves Nursing at in-person gatherings like LLL Louisville’s Live Love Latch during National Breastfeeding Month and Healthy Children Project’s International Breastfeeding Conference. She’s also shared her story with local WIC offices.

This summer, Haywood adapted to Zoom and Facebook Live events to celebrate Black Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month with her book. 

Haywood looks forward to the United States Breastfeeding Committee’s (USBC) National Conference in 2021 where she hopes to bring her mother and Noelle– three generations sharing their breastfeeding journeys. 

The second edition of Noey Loves Nursing will be released later this year or in early 2021. Get connected with Haywood on social media @noeylovesnursing, @monicareneeinc and on Facebook.