RNs' Careers Reborn With Lactation Counseling
Funds train RNs to help mothers overcome breastfeeding challenges
Yvonne Rowe has been a maternal child health RN for 13 years, but she’s preparing for her own source of joy: certification as a lactation consultant in the Newborn Club.
To increase support for expectant and new families, the Mid-Atlantic States region launched the Newborn Club, in which international board-certified lactation consultants assist new mothers with breastfeeding questions and challenges during the first crucial weeks after delivery.
Since last September, Rowe has accumulated 500 clinical hours to become a lactation consultant at a Kaiser Permanente medical office in Frederick, Maryland. By this summer, Rowe—like other registered nurses in the region who are receiving training through the Ben Hudnall Memorial Trust and with the enthusiastic support of her manager—will take an exam certifying her to:
- perform a breastfeeding assessment,
- develop a care plan,
- provide breastfeeding support in person or over the phone, and
- evaluate outcomes.
Manager supports staff development
"I get some sense of confidence when I come back and see a person and am able to assess what is going on and help the patient fix the problem," says Rowe, a UFCW Local 400 member who was recommended by her manager.
Elizabeth "Bets" Bloom, clinical operations manager for the pediatrics and Ob/Gyn units in medical centers in Gaithersburg, Germantown and Frederick, believes in supporting employees in their passions for patient care and patient education.
"She is going to be a fantastic resource," says Bloom, who routinely encourages members of her staff of 35 to further their education. "This will save KP members money; they are not going to have to go out in the community on their own to find these resources."
The Newborn Club lactation consultants teach breastfeeding classes to parents before the baby arrives and provide breastfeeding support until the mother feels confident that her baby is thriving. Several health authorities including the World Health Organization recommend breastfeeding for at least the first year of life. There is strong evidence that mothers’ milk decreases the incidence and severity of a wide range of infectious diseases and allergies. In older children and adults who were breastfed, there is a lower rate of obesity, asthma, and diabetes.
Help with what comes naturally
Breastfeeding is natural, but learning how to breastfeed takes time, patience and often some help from a professional lactation consultant. Rowe’s training includes observing new mothers and their babies as they attempt to "latch-on" to Mom’s breast for the first feedings.
"We are able to assess and identify the problems that cause abnormal latching (one of the most common challenges to successful breastfeeding). Sometimes it’s something like low milk supply," Rowe says. "There is so much wealth of knowledge about lactation. It’s a specialty in itself really."
The Newborn Club is an example of how Kaiser Permanente excels in preventive care, says Ann Jordan, program manager of Women’s Health for the region.
"With early education and guidance, our consultants help Mom establish breastfeeding, leading to healthier babies, children and adults," Jordan says. "Each [lactation consultant] intern is dedicated to helping our Kaiser moms have successful breastfeeding experiences, which in turn, contributes to the success of the program."
Rowe is receiving lactation-consulting experience in inpatient and outpatient settings. On Wednesdays, she helps to staff a community drop-in clinic where new mothers can get help with breastfeeding needs. She works as an intern, with a certified lactation consultant at her side.
"And now I know the rationale behind the care," she says. Rowe also used the Hudnall Trust to earn her master’s degree in nursing education.
Three tips for managers
"The benefits [to the department] far outweigh any challenges I encounter," says Bloom, a former Local 400 member who has continued supporting the program as a manager. She credits Hudnall administrators with helping on issues such as employee recruitment and backfill for the unit while participants are in training. "I want my staff to improve any way they can."
Bloom offers the following tips for other managers supporting employee development:
- Keep a list of on-call employees to help with backfill.
- Encourage employees to partner with someone who can cover a shift.
- Inform employees of training opportunities early and often.
As for Rowe, she is excited about using her new knowledge and skills as a lactation consultant: "I am looking forward to launching the next Newborn Club."