JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Breastfeeding moms and moms-to-be are now getting more support thanks to a lactation education course for Madigan Army Medical Center healthcare staff.About 75 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, primary care managers and dietitians learned how to better help women to breastfeed their babies in a five-day, 40-hour course in late March."We are the first (military treatment facility) making this type of event happen. Our staff are coming out of the course as certified lactation educators," said Stacey Rodriguez, Madigan's assistant chief nurse of the Primary Care Service Line.Offering this training to Madigan staff supports the U.S. Medical Command initiative to encourage breastfeeding through better education of healthcare staff."When that mother comes in at week two and has cracked nipples, sore breasts, a baby that isn't latching well and they're about to give up, that's when they'll have those resources available to encourage them," said Lt. Col. Eric Fourroux, chief nurse of the PCSL.While Madigan has 10 lactation consultants on both inpatient and outpatient staff, having dozens of other staff trained on how to help breastfeeding moms can provide a bigger network for moms to rely on."It's a team effort," said Molly Pessl, a lactation consultant, registered nurse and owner and director of the program which ran the training, Evergreen Perinatal Education.Pessl hopes trainees learn how to increase moms' confidence, when they should refer moms to lactation consultants, and how to help moms feed their babies better.Participant and Licensed Practical Nurse Elizabeth Maeng said that because of the training she now has a better understanding of how to answer breastfeeding questions, to include "a better understanding of why we start hand-expressing earlier and how we can improve milk production."Knowing more about common breastfeeding concerns and how to increase milk supply should help staff to better triage breastfeeding issues, said Rachel Hinckley, a registered nurse and a lactation consultant.
"I think with all of the nurses coming back with this training, when they're checking their patients in they might be able to tease out any concerns just from doing the basic intake," said Hinckley. "Ultimately it's going to make the nurses feel more empowered."For Christina Yoon, an obstetrics care coordinator and a lactation educator, the course reinforced that prenatal breastfeeding education would help moms be more successful later on -- something that Pessl stresses is critical to letting moms talk about their breastfeeding concerns and questions early."Pregnancy is really the time we can generate confidence in her," said Pessl.She acknowledges that some moms may prefer formula feeding over breastfeeding, but says oftentimes a lack of education on breastfeeding influences that choice."You want to respect women's choices but most women make the choice because they don't have accurate information," Pessl said.A lack of early education and continued support leads many moms to quit breastfeeding before they planned, for reasons ranging from concerns about their milk supply to pain to logistical challenges of going back to work. Even well-meaning family members may pressure moms to switch to bottles so they can feel connected with feeding the baby."Most of it is (moms) don't get the support they need at every part along the way," said Pessl.But she believes that better educated healthcare staff can change that by empowering breastfeeding moms and praising them for their efforts.Fourroux hopes that educating staff will contribute to a larger cultural change as well."That's part of the cultural shift: I teach you, and then you teach your own family, and who knows how many lives we'll touch indirectly," he said.He said the training will help more moms to meet their breastfeeding goals, whether that's four weeks or six months or longer."A lot of them have goals on the inpatient side; they just gave birth and they are full of hope and vision," said Fourroux. "We want to help them reach that goal, whatever it is."