Boston Public School teacher works to extend support to other lactating educators

Porshai Z. is a third grade teacher in the Boston Public School system, currently on maternity leave with her three-month-old son who cooed during our phone call on an early October morning.

Photo courtesy of Porshai Z.

“I absolutely love it,” Porshai says of teaching. “My [students] are at the most tender age where they’re still aiming to please adults, but they have a little sass and personality.” 

After the birth of her first son, Porshai returned to work just four months postpartum, and she says it’s one of her biggest regrets. For one, it took away from her role as a teacher. She found herself pumping in a bathroom,  stressing each and every time she needed to leave her full-of-personality third graders. Returning to work so soon after the birth of her baby also took away from the joy of feeding her first son, Porshai shares. 

Though Porshai poured herself into research about unmedicated birth and how to breastfeed as soon as she became pregnant, she found herself unprepared for the physical demand of feeding her little human. There was one evening in particular where she felt enticed to open the commercial milk formula package sent by the formula company, but she ultimately persevered. 

“I don’t know what quieted that voice,” Porshai reflects. Perhaps it was the investment she made learning and preparing for this relationship and her realization even through the challenge: “Wow, this is really special.”  

This time, Porshai will remain at home with her new baby for a year. Simultaneously, she is completing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC). Porshai earned one of the most recent rounds of the Accessing the Milky Way Scholarships

“I have really been enjoying [the course],” Porshai shares. “ There is so much I wish I knew the first time I was nursing.” 

She says she appreciates that the course grounds breastfeeding as a public health issue and that she was surprised to learn about the composition of human milk. Learning about milk’s dynamic nature has allowed her to better understand her own infant’s behavior. More generally, she was fascinated to consider how our society has adopted nesting caregiving behavior though we are truly carriers.  

“This is mind-blowing,” she says. “So many more women need to hear that.” 

As a highschooler, Porshai was always fascinated by reproductive health. She’d watch documentaries on birth and her favorite science museum exhibit was one that depicted the stages of life. It wasn’t until later that she became aware of the option to become a lactation care provider. 

Through Boston Medical Center’s Curbside Care for Moms and Babies, a mobile unit that provides “comprehensive mother-infant dyadic care during the first six weeks of life”– Porshai met her first duo of Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs). 

“I really do think the power of that training is what allowed me to continue [breastfeeding]  in the first place,” Porshai reflects. 

This wrap-around care was particularly influential as it ‘met her where she was at.’ 

Porshai goes on to say, “I hope to work in that way as well. I hope to be that visibility.” 

More specifically, Porshai says she has been thinking a lot about how elementary education is a female-dominated industry; with many friends and colleagues growing their families, Porshai hopes to be a resource and support for them as they learn to feed their babies. She plans to create a network of breastfeeding mothers within the Boston Public Schools so that there is a designated space for parents navigating infant feeding and the unique challenges of teaching. 

In addition, Porshai is considering becoming a postpartum nurse. 

“[The LCTC] could very well be the thing that catapults me to go back to school.” 

For more on teaching and lactation, check out this article. The PUMP Act now extends federal lactation rights and protections to all employees in K-12 schools.

Changing the culture of mother baby separation in one Northeastern hospital

“I got to touch him once and they took him right away from me,” Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center labor and delivery nurse Jennifer Wickett says, remembering the birth of her first child 19 years ago.

Wickett desired non-medicated births, but her three children ended up being born via cesarean sections for various reasons. Wickett’s personal birth experiences coincided with her early professional life, working at a hospital in Massachusetts as a labor and delivery nurse.

At the time, she explains, the process was this: the baby was born,  taken to the warmer, vitals and weight were recorded. The baby was wrapped in a blanket and held next to mom’s face for five to ten minutes and then taken to the newborn nursery.

Skin-to-skin in the OR, Healthy Children Project

“I hated that for my patients and I hated that for me,” Wickett says.

So Wickett singularly started changing that culture of mother baby separation.
Now, at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center, Wickett attends about 95 percent of the c-sections, and she says she was able to “take control.”

“[Initially] I wasn’t tucking baby in skin-to-skin, but I was putting baby on top of mom with the support person helping hold the baby,” Wickett explains.
She deemed it the Wickett hold: baby placed chest down on mom with knees tucked under the left breast and baby’s head on the right breast.

Attending a Kangaroo Mother Care Conference in Cleveland galvanized her efforts: the evidence clearly supported skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth and beyond.  Fellow nurses, anesthesiologists and other team members were resistant, but Wickett and a few other fellow nurses who created the Kangaroo Care Committee kept at it, always leading with kindness and communication. Rather than approaching the process with an “I have to do this” agenda, Wickett involves and acknowledges all of the participants in the room.

For instance, to the mother, she asks permission while also explaining the importance of skin-to-skin contact.

“They’re in hook line and sinker when I explain that their body regulates their baby’s temperature,” Wickett explains. “They don’t want to give that baby up; they are not letting that baby go.”

To the anesthesiologist, she facilitates open communication. Wickett lets them know that she assumes responsibility for the baby. “Are you good?” she often checks in with the anesthesiologist, while minding their space to work safely and efficiently.

Wickett  makes certain to involve the partner in their baby’s care, asking them to keep a watchful eye over mom and baby.

Photo by Jonathan Borba

Just about half of the babies she sees begin breastfeeding in the OR, she reports. From the OR, babies are kept on their mothers’ chests as they’re transferred to the recovery room, continuing the opportunity to breastfeed. All in all, Wickett says that babies born by c-section at her hospital spend more time skin-to-skin than those who are born vaginally.

After a vaginal birth, eager nurses often disturb skin-to-skin contact to complete their screenings and documentation. Excited partners wanting to hold their baby tend to do the same.

In the OR though, Wickett says there are at least 30 minutes without these disruptions.  Once mother and baby are transferred to the PACU, mothers report decreased pain when skin-to-skin is practiced.

What’s more, Wickett reports hearing often “This baby is such a good breastfeeder!” because the babies have an opportunity to initiate breastfeeding within the first two hours of life.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that immediate, continuous, uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact should be the standard of care for all mothers and all babies (from 1000 grams with experienced staff if assistance is needed), after all modes of birth. The recent Skin-to-skin contact after birth: Developing a research and practice guideline synthesizes the evidence. [Read more here.]

Skin-to-skin, Healthy Children Project

Wickett and seven other colleagues had the opportunity to complete the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC) last year.
While she says she would have loved to have been able to take the course in-person, Wickett still found the material and resources “fabulous.”

For the past four years, there’s been a vacancy in the perinatal coordinator position at her hospital, so Wickett hopes that her new credentials will allow her to fill the need.  In the meantime, Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center offers outpatient lactation visits. The center’s breastfeeding support groups halted during the height of COVID and have yet to resume; Wickett reports that they are trying to bring those back virtually.

Additionally, Maine residents have access to the CradleME Program which
offers home-based services to anyone pregnant up to one year postpartum.
In partnership with the Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast , Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center became the first milk depot in the Bangor area.

You can read more Our Milky Way coverage on skin-to-skin after cesarean birth in  Skin-to-skin in the operating room after cesarean birth , The Association Between Common Labor Drugs and Suckling When Skin-to-Skin During the First Hour After Birth , and Skin to skin in the OR.

Also check out Skin to Skin in the First Hour After Birth; Practical Advice for Staff after Vaginal and Cesarean Birth Skin to Skin.

Find some beautiful KMC imagery here.

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.

Breastfeeding is mammalian.

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

Breastfeeding is mammalian.

(Okay, there are also the non-mammals who “produce nutrient-rich elixirs” to feed their young, including flamingos, cockroaches and male emperor penguins, and a species of jumping spider.)

A mammal is an animal of the class Mammalia, an animal that suckles its young. Mammal is the  1800’s Englished form of the Latin “Mammalia” (1773). Dissecting the word further, it was coined in 1758 by Linnaeus for the class of animals from the neuter (things that have no gender) plural of Late Latin mammalis “of the breast.” [https://www.etymonline.com/word/mammal]

Predating language, milk and lactation are ancient; in fact, the origins may date as far back as 300 million years ago, according to scientist Mike Power, who curates and maintains the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s milk repository, as reported by Catherine Zuckerman. That makes mother’s milk older than dinosaurs!

Since those many, many million years ago, mother’s milk, the “magic potion”, has been shaped by natural selection and has diversified among the thousands of mammals that are living today, Katie Hinde has explained. Species specific milk has allowed mammals to live in environments in which the young could not otherwise survive and to cope with unreliable food sources.  This evolution to support infants while they’re developing has led to important mammalian adaptations like complex social relationships, Hinde goes on. The first social (and sometimes the only) encounter for mammals, is with their mothers.

Juan Brines and Claude Billeaud so graciously offer “a testimony of gratitude and respect to women who have assumed the responsibility of breastfeeding their infants because without them the human species would not have existed” in Breast-Feeding from an Evolutionary Perspective.

 

Additional resources

Healthy Child Manitoba put together “Mammals: Feeding their babies since the beginning of time” which can be used as a breastfeeding lesson in a variety of settings.

Check out Hinde’s March Mammal Madness inspired by the NCAA College Basketball March Madness Championship Tournament. This year’s fun and results can be found here.

——–

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: What is one of your earliest memories of infant feeding?

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, and this week we have made it to our tenth week celebrating Our Milky Way!

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.

 

——–

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.