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.” 



Reflections from a volunteer CLC working on naval base

Many of our Our Milky Way interviewees launch into their advocacy for
healthy infant feeding after they’ve endured personal situations with their
own babies. This is not Crystal Grask’s, CLC origin story into the world
of breastfeeding though.  Now the mother of a darling little one, Grask
serves as a Red Cross volunteer lactation counselor at Naval Base Rota
in Spain, but her road to breastfeeding started before becoming a
mother.

We’re pumped to feature this interview with Grask this week on Our
Milky Way.

On discovering her passion for maternal child health…

I had really no insight into maternal child health until I found myself
interviewing for the Communications Coordinator position with the Rocky
Mountain Children’s Health Foundation and Mothers’ Milk Bank. Once I
obtained the role, I started working directly with Laraine Lockhart-
Borman, the then director of the milk bank…her staff… Donor Relations
Coordinators, Certified Lactation Educators, Doulas and more. I found
myself immersed in a totally new world and was soaking up the
knowledge like a sponge. Everyday I learned something new about
breastfeeding, donating human milk, or lactation and the impact these
things have on the mother-baby dyads and the families we served.
As I learned…I found myself becoming more and more passionate about
helping moms, babies and families have successful happy starts in life.
Through the RMCHF and MMB I learned about the the Lactation
Counselor Training Course (LCTC), learned about the importance of
breastfeeding, saw firsthand the impact donating and receiving donor
human milk had on mother-baby dyads and families, and was able to
observe and glean insight into dozens of parents’ feeding journeys
through the Foundation’s  programming and milk bank’s weekly Baby
Cafe pregnancy and postpartum moms groups.

On completing the LCTC…

… Life happened, and I was unable to take the course during my tenure
at the [RMCHF], but the passion didn’t go away. It continued to blossom. I moved to Washington State where the course wasn’t offered,
but I remained passionate and steadfast in my desires using my
previous knowledge about breastfeeding/lactation to help providers (OBs
and Pediatricians) communicate with their patients about breastfeeding. I
knew I still wanted to work in this realm, and decided that once I was
able to obtain my CLC certification, I would like to pursue a private
practice.

In 2020, the course became virtual, which allowed me to start my
training! I started in December of 2020, and soon after, we moved to
Spain with the Navy. It was there I finished my training, in June of 2021. I
loved the virtual nature of the training and found – even when I was an
ocean away – I could tune in, interact during office hours, and complete
the course with ease. I really appreciated that!

On her own breastfeeding journey…

Flash forward five years… I found myself breastfeeding my daughter,
Julieanne, and having a rough journey. We started off feeding well,
resolving minor latch issues right off the bat. However, despite having a
small but adequate supply, she struggled to gain weight. Our pediatrician
immediately suggested formula supplementation, and I struggled with
that suggestion. My husband was a huge supporter of breastfeeding,
and also felt like there wasn’t a huge need to supplement. I was able to
reach out to prior colleagues… for observations, but neither of them
could find anything truly amiss. My daughter latches well and has always
been very healthy, but didn’t gain weight well no matter how much or
what we were feeding her. We discovered she has a very high
metabolism and strong passion for eating, so I found myself feeding
round the clock, triple feeding for a few weeks, and eventually settling
into a combo-feeding routine. While it wasn’t my picture perfect image of
how our breastfeeding journey would go, I am proud to say we’re still
largely breastfeeding and she’s gained a significant amount of weight.

Photo by Taylor Marie Photography

I hope to help moms receive the support I lacked in the immediate
postpartum. With consistent help and follow-up observations, perhaps
we wouldn’t have needed to supplement. I want to be that resource for other moms, to help them feel validated, encouraged to meet their goals,
and support them no matter what their feeding choices are.

On landing her volunteer CLC position at the naval base…

One of the first things I noticed after arriving at Naval Base Rota was the
multitude of pregnant women around. We were still living in COVID
times, and I quickly learned while there was support for moms to
breastfeed from a command standpoint, there were not many staff or
programs available to support the station’s breastfeeding dyads either in
hospital or at home postpartum. I knew I could help bridge this gap.
After exploring a few different avenues, I found I was able to sign up with
the Red Cross as a volunteer CLC at the Navy Medicine Readiness and
Training Command Rota (Naval Hospital Rota) Maternal Child Infant
ward! This role gives me the unique opportunity to help moms within
hours after delivering her baby, and help these dyads and families start
their feeding journeys feeling confident and supported.

On a typical day in this role…

I come in, check in with the nurse on duty or head nurse for a rundown
of our patients to learn about their delivery(ies), their baby, their current
health situation, and how feeding has been going thus far. I also ask if
mom/family has presented them with any concerns/questions about
feeding thus far, so I can be as prepared as possible when I first meet
with a mom.
After ensuring I have all the information/resources ready, I go meet with
the mom/baby dyad/ family. While in their room, we talk about how mom
is doing, I meet their new little one, and we go over how their feeling
about feeding thus far. I often provide latch assessments, and observe
feedings while in the room as well. Sometimes, during this, we’ll be in a
more relaxed setting, and mom will ask questions about any concerns
she has for when she goes home, which I answer or refer her to her
provider or the base’s Visiting Nurse if it’s a subject outside of my scope.

Once my initial visit is over, I will make a follow up plan with mom if
desired, then input notes and do any supplemental research for her. At
my follow up visit (usually that day or the next) I will give her any
resources we discussed and provide answers to her questions.
In the LCTC, we focused a lot on listening to mom, hearing her story and
using that, her experience and her health history to guide our
counseling. I think I use that often to meet moms where they are and
give them the care they deserve. I also find I’m teaching the asymmetric
latch often, even to second and third time moms! I also cover hand
expression and storage guidelines often. We get a lot of questions
around pumping and building a stash of milk for returning to work,
especially for active duty moms.

I have also started seeing postpartum patients in the hospital’s OBGYN clinic.

On unique challenges…
Grask at Rota Breastfeeding Week 2023 presenting topics like skin-to-skin and hand expression 

I think there is a strong desire to help breastfeeding moms here, but
there is an apparent lack of resources, especially for postpartum moms.
The community has one Visiting Nurse who is a rockstar seeing many
moms daily, but she’s unfortunately the only one able to do so at the
moment. To help bridge this gap, I’ve gained approval to have a small
business, Asbury Breastfeeding Counseling, and am offering my
services to moms in the community in addition to my work as a
volunteer. I’m also working with the Visiting Nurse and hospital MCI
leads to host monthly breastfeeding courses at the hospital, promote the
existing pregnancy and postpartum support groups, and soon will be
offering a BYOBB (Bring Your Own Baby and Breastfeed) class at the
hospital for new moms to learn the various positions they can breastfeed
their babies in and be available to answer any questions/troubleshoot
any feeding/latch issues in person.
We also hosted Rota Breastfeeding Week helping educate the
community here on what is available for new moms and showcasing the
various lactation spaces. We also had a latch on nursing event.

On goals for next year…

 

Over the next year, I hope to reach more moms and families to help
them feed successfully… I know this community’s resources are slim. I hope to establish these classes and have imparted education to staff so
when I ultimately transition out of this station, I know I am leaving moms
with supportive providers who can help her achieve her goals.

Some favorite breastfeeding stories…

While working at the Mothers’ Milk Bank, I was able to sit in on several
Baby Cafe postpartum support groups. During a few of these groups, I
met a parenting duo and their little one. No matter what they did, this
mom struggled to make enough for her little one, but desperately wanted
to make breastfeeding work. I listened and observed them for weeks,
learning from their interactions as a couple, parents and individuals and
gleaning insights from the [lactation care provider]  helping them.
Ultimately, I believe they began to feed with donor milk and formula, but
it was their journey and the persevering passion to help their baby and
family thrive that left an impression on me.
Here in Rota, I have been lucky enough to see a few of the moms I’ve
helped in early days several months postpartum. Two such dyads come
to mind. One was a new mom, baby born a couple weeks early had had
an ample supply of milk. Due to her baby’s early arrival, the baby was
transferred to a Spanish hospital where they received formula instead of
her breast milk. I saw her about five days postpartum and her milk
supply had fully come in but the baby was fussy and struggled to latch.
We worked on several techniques, including skin-to-skin care, cross-
cradle and football holds, asymmetric latch and also discussed ways to
pump/store milk. I was worried as this mom seemed to be ready to give
up quickly, but I ran into her six months postpartum and her once small
baby was now thriving on breast milk! It was a beautiful thing to see and
she is still breastfeeding.
In January, I served the family who had the first baby of the year. The
parents were first time parents, and had no idea what to expect or how
to navigate breastfeeding now their arrival had made her debut. Mom
and I worked on recognizing feeding cues, latching, promoting skin-to-
skin care, using dad for support, and discussed various ways to pump– hand express, manual, double-electric, wearables, to help her build a
supply later on. Soon after I had my own baby, I ran into this mom at a
moms group and found breastfeeding was going well for her! Her little
one was steadily gaining weight and she felt confident in her feeding
routine and encouraged by the support she had received early on. I was
elated at this update and so happy to see them thrive.
Personally, breastfeeding hasn’t been as easy as I’d like, but when I feed
it is the most wonderful, almost indescribable feeling. One of my favorite
stories I have is from my early postpartum days. I had been hanging out
skin-to-skin with her on the couch and accidentally fallen asleep. A little
while later I awoke — to a baby suckling on my breast! I had heard and
known about a baby’s natural instinct to find the breast, but I hadn’t expected her to seek it out and find it on her own when she was so new
to the world. Now she giggles whenever she sees my breast and is
especially excited for boob food time!

Colorado pediatric office becomes breastfeeding friendly employer

Castle Rock Pediatrics (CRP) made a splash this summer at the Douglas County Fair Parade where they displayed their incredible Under the Sea themed float. Patients and families created a colorful array of paper plate fish that “swam” through pool noodle crafted seaweed.

CRP also attended the  Renaissance Expeditionary Magnet School Back to School Carnival and the Downtown Castle Rock Concert Under the Lights where they set up a lactation station.

After breastfeeding her own young children and later completing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC), Laura Westover PA-C, CLC, one of the providers at CRP, dove into helping transform her office into a Breastfeeding-Friendly Employer and soon-to-be Breastfeeding- Friendly Medical Office.

Their work is supported by a grant through the Tri-County Health Department. Westover has been working alongside Susan Howk, a breastfeeding policy specialist, to create their policies and lactation spaces through a six-point plan which includes policy, staff and provider training, patient education, environment, evaluation and sustainability, and continuity of care.

The grant has funded things like a chair, end tables, a hospital-grade multi user breast pump and kits, a stuffed animal nursing dog with her puppies for siblings to play with, and a lactation scale for weighted feeds.

Westover displays the breastfeeding friendly employer certificate in March 2022 standing in their first lactation space.

Their lactation space started in one of their smallest exam rooms, but has recently graduated to one of their larger exam rooms, which is now near the end of its renovation. Westover notes that the space also functions for newborn and young baby visits.

Westover reports that CRP owners since November 2021 Drs. Anderson and Bouchillon have been highly supportive of the breastfeeding-friendly changes.

Prior to the implementation of their lactation policies, Westover says their office “was not lactation friendly at all.” She describes stacks of formula in plain view.

“It gave the impression that we were promoting formula,” she comments.

Gift bags for patients were also riddled with formula-promotions, so the team phased out the branded materials and replaced them for non-branded, breastfeeding-friendly items.

Now, Westover and her colleague Sydney Gruenhaupt RN-BSN, CLC  see breastfeeding dyads weekly for office visits; whereas they once had to refer out. Of mothers’ main concerns are poor weight gain and uncomfortable or painful latch.

Westover points out that Colorado has very high breastfeeding initiation rates, but like the national trend, tapers dramatically at 6 months and beyond. While Westover and her colleagues are not currently tracking their office’s breastfeeding rates, it’s part of the plan in hopes that their numbers will hold steady beyond initiation rates. Westover explains since they’ve switched over to a larger electronic medical records system, there should be potential for a simple, infant feeding tracking system. A 2016 project by the County of San Diego Healthy Works program, implemented by UC San Diego Center for Community Health with funding from First 5 San Diego extensively explores current practices and future possibilities of  breastfeeding measurement in the outpatient electronic health record.

Westover and her colleagues will be out and about again this fall where they’ll craft their  lactation tent at events like Oktoberfest and the town of Castle Rock Spooktacular Halloween celebration.

“[It’s] really wonderful because we are able to promote [to] the whole community,” Westover shares.

For more about CRP’s lactation services visit https://castlerockpediatrics.com/Services/Additional-Services .

Guiding informed decision making about tongue-tie revision

In the service industry, the customer is always right. In lactation, ‘Mother knows best’. 

Lauren Zemaitis MA, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech pathologist who specializes in infant, toddler and school-aged children with feeding disorders. Her son– now three years old– was diagnosed with tongue-tie by a hospital-based IBCLC when he was about one day old. 

“It is still such a vivid interaction in my mind,” Zemaitis begins. 

“We had some difficulty latching within the first 24 hours. I had some [birth] complications so I was a little groggy and the two of us were just trying to figure [breastfeeding] out,” she remembers. 

“The nurses were having trouble helping me, so an IBCLC came in and was very aggressive talking at me through the latching process. She shoved her finger into my son’s mouth while he was crying and told me he had ties and said, ‘You won’t have a good breastfeeding journey. These have to get revised before you leave the hospital,’” Zemaitis continues.

“I was just like, What?” she remembers, still affected by lingering medication. 

Throughout the rest of the day she and her son laid skin-to-skin, and he latched. 

The following morning, the lactation consultant returned. She inquired about Zemaitis’s conversation with their pediatrician the night before. 

Zemaitis explains: 

“She was very aggressive again and said, ‘I know the ped came in last night. Did you talk to him about what I said? I said we did talk with the ped and right now we don’t want to pursue a revision, he’s not even 72 hours old. She said, ‘Well I just still don’t think this going to work for you.’ I explained what I do [for a profession] and she said, ‘Oh, so you know this is going to affect his feeding skills and speech development.’ I finally said that no we’re not going to do this, that I want to see where this breastfeeding journey is going to go. She said, “Fine” and left the room.” 

From that point on, Zemaitis often doubted her ability to breastfeed her baby. 

“The specialist set me up to think I wasn’t going to be successful,” she says. 

Even so, Zemaitis and her baby went on to breastfeed for over a year. 

Their story is a great reminder that we look to lactation care providers (or any health care provider) for guidance, not dictation. Professionals are positioned to help us make informed decisions. Ultimately, parents are their children’s health authorities, and in this case and in many others, Mother knows best. 

Their story is also a powerful anecdote about hotly debated tongue-tie diagnoses and treatments. 

Zemaitis considers tongue-tie a “buzz word” among some professionals meaning it’s an overused term, and it’s being over-diagnosed. 

She points out a few concerns she has. 

“Between professionals, there’s a lot of gray area; one person might say it’s a true, very taught tongue tie that needs immediate revision and someone else may say we just need to do something else like working through the re-latching process or sucking skills,” she explains. 

She also worries that pointing out tongue ties (especially if done in the manner she’d experienced personally) might plot doubt in moms. 

“The doubt continues to get bigger and bigger in terms of their emotions around it and then when something goes wrong, or different than they thought it would, they immediately doubt themselves and their decision around tongue revisions,” she goes on.

What’s more, Zemaitis notices that many revisions are being performed around three to four months of age, at which point babies have established motor patterns. Sometimes, a revision can disrupt those patterns and has to relearn them. 

Tongue-tie revisions, which sometimes sound as benign as clipping one’s fingernails, can be simple, but they can also require a more involved surgery, cutting into muscle and requiring extensive pre and post exercise and follow up care.  Zemaitis points out that parents can be apprehensive to touch the revision site to perform this care.  

When tongue tie is suspected, she and her colleagues look for a functional deficit like limited tongue mobility and/or strength and the impact on feeding development and skills, not solely the structure of the mouth. 

They’ve found that things like suck training, repositioning at the breast, and counseling mothers to allow the baby to latch rather than trying to “control” the nipple and baby’s movement can be effective tools before referral for revision is suggested. 

Through personal experience and after completing the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC), Zemaitis centers her work in good counseling. 

“I think the counseling piece is something that we all really strive to continue to do better,” she says. “The counseling piece in the training was really valuable. I learned a lot by doing the small group projects and working with other professionals from other settings; how can we all do better with the active listening piece?” 

Zemaitis has the opportunity to uplift and celebrate her clients in their natural environment when she’s doing home visits. She particularly loves working with families with premature and medically complex babies. 

She explains that one of these families biggest challenges is transitioning from hospital to home and feeling like they have to start back at square one with their infant’s care. 

Zemaitis considers some of her biggest successes when she sees babies go from being completely reliant on tube feeding to becoming oral eaters. She and her colleagues are inspired by the work the children and their parents go through to ultimately “trust food”. 

“[Parents] thank us,” she begins. “We say, it’s because of you. We are guiding you. You are making the choices for your children.”

Helping families flourish in southeastern Alaska

As a young child, Jasmine Esmay, RNC-OB, CLC, now a nurse at a Baby-Friendly critical access hospital in southeastern Alaska, watched a mare birth her foal. 

Esmay was struck by the “reverent atmosphere”. The horse has fresh hay and water. Calm and quiet hushed over the scene. 

“I was in awe of the whole process,” she says, making the connection early on that we, too, are mammals.

Most young children play house at some point, but I was never interested in pretending to cook or playing house,” Esmay shares. “I wanted all my friends to pretend they were in labor and I was the midwife, much to the dismay, I think, of their parents.”

Then when Esmay was 17, she was invited to attend the hospital birth of a friend she babysat for. 

“Again, I was in awe of the power and strength and miracle of new life,” she says. 

Her personal birth stories further shaped her passion and work within maternal child health, fully realizing the importance of evidence-based practice. These stories were a sharp contrast to the gentle, supported births she had witnessed, and she began to understand that how women experience birth can influence outcomes such as bonding, breastfeeding rates and  postpartum depression occurrence. Early on in her work, she realized the significance of a calm, patient-centered approach. 

Latching babies or empowering parents 

Esmay eventually volunteered with WIC, making house calls and inviting others to her home to help with breastfeeding whenever she could. Since 2008, she’s been working solely as an OB nurse. 

“…It seemed wherever I was working in an obstetric unit people would always say “Go find Jasmine, she can get any baby to latch!’” she shares. 

In 2017, she completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC)

“What [our instructors] taught me through that course was to put my hands in my pockets and take in the entire picture, and then to help the breastfeeding dyad to find their own ways to be comfortable and successful with breastfeeding,” she explains. 

“They really stressed starting newborns with laid back positions, to encourage instinctual feeding behaviors, and to help new parents be comfortable and confident in their ability to breastfeed,” Esmay continues. “It was so hard those first few months to trust the process. I had to learn that my method of so-called helping was really not helpful.”

Esmay found it helpful to remind herself of the words of Cindy Turner-Maffei: “You may be able to get a baby to latch, but is it teaching the parents or empowering the parents so that when they go home, breastfeeding is successful?” 

Over time, Esmay says she came to realize that confidence is half the battle.

“I’ve heard over and over ‘I didn’t think I could do it’ or ‘I couldn’t have done it without all the help and support’,” she reports. “It’s nice to know that we not only encourage breastfeeding, but that we give people the tools they need to really succeed at breastfeeding and enjoy it. I really hope that those feelings of success and empowerment reach into the rest of parenting and pass down into generations.”

She’s noticed too that parents prefer a hands-off approach most of the time. 

“As this approach was implemented, I began to see less parents coming back supplementing or with nipple pain or other breastfeeding issues,” she reports. “It is very rewarding to see the parents’ confidence grow, and see how that affects bonding and the integration of the newborn into the family.” 

Expanding lactation care support 

Esmay plans to take the IBCLC exam in April, a process she’s been working toward for five years. 

“I can honestly say that out of all the trainings and books and lectures and conferences I attended, the training I received through Healthy Children Project changed my practice the most,” she comments. 

Esmay was recently honored as a member of USLCA’s advisory board.

“My hope is that through knowledge and idea sharing we can think outside the box on ways to expand lactation support and education to marginalized populations,” she reflects on her new role. 

Esmay shares that she has conflicting thoughts regarding the exclusive use of IBCLC credentialing for “the gold standard” of lactation care. 

She explains: “It is important to recognize credentials, and licensing will help with getting lactation care reimbursed, but I also know from experience how expensive it is to obtain and maintain. The reality is that obtaining an IBCLC at this point is just not possible in many rural and marginalized populations. 

I think more focus should be on training all healthcare workers in normal breastfeeding support and the importance of breastfeeding. Statistically breastfeeding is just as important to overall health as teaching cardiac wellness and cancer screening. The focus should be on breastfeeding as a normal part of maternal child health, with referrals to experienced lactation care professionals when there are complicated feeding issues.” 

Barriers and triumphs 

In her work today at the critical access hospital, Esmay and her colleagues serve 15 remote communities. Their hospital was the first tribal affiliated hospital in the state to receive Baby-Friendly status. 

Esmay says their patients are plagued by many of the same barriers as those in the rest of the nation; namely, limited access to evidence-based breastfeeding support, physical distance and travel barriers for perinatal care, breastfeeding not being the socially acceptable norm, abysmal parental leave, little or no workplace pumping accommodations and/or childcare. 

“I think our biggest barrier though is in the current medical model of care where there is a lack of continued support throughout the postpartum period,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense to have 10 plus prenatal visits, and then only one postpartum follow up 4 to 6 weeks after a baby is born.” 

Adopting the midwifery model of care could offer many solutions in regard to postnatal care, she adds. 

Location lends itself to some challenges too. 

“It seems the very nature of where I live lends itself to always being a bit understaffed. Living on an island has its challenges and some of the community is transient by nature due to seasonal work or contract work.

 I think it is well known that healthcare in general is a very mentally and physically challenging calling. For obstetric care in general, I think that is why it is so important to get more feet on the ground for lactation support. If we can encourage routine breastfeeding education and training to all women and children’s nurses and providers, that will lessen the burden and improve access to breastfeeding support.

In my opinion, if you work anywhere in healthcare, but especially maternal child health, then basic breastfeeding knowledge should be the standard, not the exception. There are always those special feeding needs that will require a higher level of care, but every women’s and children’s healthcare provider should know what normal breastfeeding patterns look like, how to support a breastfeeding dyad and how to spot problems.”

Despite the aforementioned barriers, Esmay and her fellow colleagues are unrelenting in their service. The team offers a variety of breastfeeding support programs including:

    • Postpartum phone call 7 to 10 days after birth as a safety net between 3 to 5 day check and 2 week newborn follow up
    • Free lactation clinic 
    • Monthly peer breastfeeding support group 

Alaska scores quite well on their breastfeeding rates compared to U.S. national averages. Esmay attributes this in part to necessity. 

“Many of the communities in southeast Alaska are very remote and cannot always rely on shipments of food or formula to survive,” she explains. “I think it speaks to the importance of family-centered communities and the knowledge sharing that happens in extended families.”

Community is strong in her area, and there’s strong community awareness of the state of maternal child health in America. 

Esmay brings attention to community gatherings like that of a group called NEST (Nurture, Empower, Support, Transform). She recently partnered with the Alaska Breastfeeding Coalition and the hospital to implement a “Breastfeeding Welcome Here” campaign for area businesses.

Encouraging trauma informed care 

While Alaska is making a difference with small changes, Esmay sheds light on an area that needs improvement: trauma informed care.

“The statistics in Alaska for women experiencing trauma are astronomical,” she begins. “Thirty-seven percent of women in Alaska have been victims of sexual violence– that rate goes to 50 percent if you are an Alaskan Native Woman– and in some areas of the state that number can be more than 90 percent. 

When women who have survived sexual violence give birth, there are triggers. Often the traumatized person is not expecting these triggers. How care is given during prenatal visits and throughout the birth process can affect how a labor progresses, how parents bond and how they view themselves as new parents. 

It can make the difference between a healing and empowering experience or becoming a victim of violence once again. If care is taken adhering to the principles of trauma informed care, there will be better birth outcomes, like less postpartum depression and a higher rate of breastfeeding success. 

Ultimately it will lead to healthier families, and that’s really the long term goal of healthcare for women and children.” 

Esmay recommends When Survivors Give Birth by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus to help us understand how to best care for the pregnant person who has experienced trauma. 

Esmay shares a few closing thoughts:

    • Approach breastfeeding from a preventative healthcare point of view. A study reported in the Surgeon General’s Call to Action found that if 90% of U.S. families followed guidelines to breastfeeding exclusively for six months, the United States would save $13 billion annually from reduced direct medical and indirect costs and the cost of premature death.  
    • Populations most affected by dangerous diseases have the least access to breastfeeding support and education. 
    • Breastfeeding is a global health issue of the highest importance. Corporate healthcare and governments need to invest as much money and energy as possible into promoting breastfeeding. 
    • We need human donor milk available in every hospital, we need equitable and affordable access to breastfeeding support, and we need the U.S. to uphold the WHO code of marketing to prevent formula companies from preying on vulnerable populations. We need the organizations that support breastfeeding to brainstorm new ways to improve education and access for all. 
    • Really the answer to world peace could be in breastfeeding, but that’s a topic for another day.