Here's my story.
I know what it's like for things to feel really, really hard.
I did all the right things. I took classes about childbirth and breastfeeding. I read all.the.books. I even started attending La Leche League meetings when I was 4 months pregnant. I knew that having a baby was "going to be hard". I did all the things I could do. What I wasn't prepared for was how overwhelming it would be to feel wholly inadequate to be responsible for a tiny human. It was a lot.
My babies didn't behave like the books said they should. They didn't give me 'feeding signs'. They went from asleep to full-on-hangry in 10 seconds. Sleeping was hard. Feeding was confusing. Tummy time was a no-go. It just all felt impossible.
When I asked 4 different people for advice, I would get 4 completely contradictory answers, and either didn't work or felt wrong to me. So I started looking for my own answers and I discovered that so much of I was told wasn't based in any actual science. It just 'the way things were done'.
So I started trying to find my own answers. This is what led me into learning more about infant feeding, and started the trajectory of where I am today.
Since then, I have learned so much - about infant's brains and their development and how societal messaging about motherhood robs us of our confidence and sets us up to feel like we have failed. Most importantly, I've learned it doesn't have to stay that way, and I want to show you how.
Putting the Pieces Together
Studying infant feeding, and learning how to help my own children put me on a collision course with learning about reflexes - or innate movement patters that we are designed to have from birth. The more I learned, the more I started to really watch infants. My work as a lactation consultant gave me a really unique opportunity to frequently observe infants do what they are innately wired to do, which is to use their reflexes to feed. I started seeing different infants go through the same patterns. Over and over again.
The biggest piece of the puzzle fell into place when I noticed that touching the chin causes infants to open their mouth really wide - and this was totally opposite of what common practice is. Common practice is to stroke down the mouth. And common practice is also that we have a lot of pain and nipple damage that simply doesn't exist in other mammals. Imagine an evolutionary strategy that involves mother with helpless infants *bleeding* every time she feeds.
Once I started exploring using the chin to cause babies to open wide, everything changed dramatically. Latch pain often ended immediately -even for folks who had been having latch pain for weeks. Nipples quickly began to healed. Over and over again. Women would tell me that feeding immediately felt different. Something interesting was happening.
The more I started experimenting with the reflex that caused the mouth to open wide, the more I started to notice other nuanced reflexes too that we have totally missed. If we let babies guide the latching process, they go through a sequence of steps to open up their head and neck, organize their body and latch to start the transfer of milk, to make feeding easier for them.
I quickly realized those steps started allowing me to solve more and more feeding challenges. When we stroke the lips, and skip all of those early steps... it's like fast-forwarding to the end of the movie and wondering why things don't make sense. But when you understand all of the early steps, then figuring out where feeding begins to get hard and how to make it better, becomes so much more obvious.
I also realized that latching struggles aren't the only thing that makes feeding hard. There are other pieces of the puzzle that need to fit into place for things to feel better - how a parent feels about feeding and their own wellness, how easy it is for a baby to move their body to be able to go through their latching reflexes, how a baby feels AFTER feeding, how well the tongue is able to move the milk to swallow safely - these all matter too.
Realizing that there was a lot of things that could impact feeding actually made it easier to figure out how to help. All you have to do is figure out which pieces are missing pieces, and help them slide right into place. And you'll know you are on the right track, because things begin to change. It's not always instant...it's not a light switch that just comes on. But there is always a pathway forward to a better place.
I spent the first half of my adult career teaching about science to anyone who would listen...from college all the way down to middle school. Like so many women, the birth of my children changed me and it was my experiences with pregnancy, birth and feeding that led me into a different pathway. I started helping families as a Certified Lactation Counselor in 2014, and became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 2017. Here are a few fun facts about me:
- I have a bachelor's degree in Zoology. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with that one, but being a dolphin trainer was definitely on my mind. It turns out that all that learning about mammals would actually be relevant. Who knew?
Working with animals in different capacities is where the seeds of using positive reinforcement was planted. I learned to change behaviors by breaking the process down into tiny steps. If we can teach a dolphin to jump through a hoop for an anchovy, we* can teach a baby to latch onto the breast.
*Full disclaimer: My career as a dolphin trainer didn't ever get started. I have taught horses, cats, dogs AND babies to do a lot of things....so I figure it's *totally* the same thing.
- I have two Master's Degrees - one in Biology and one in Science Education. I've always been an enthusiastic learner, and both have helped me in my journey into where I am.
- I'm a neurodivergent human with a neurodivergent family. Trying to understand how to support my children led me down a path of learning more and more about reflexes and brains....which ultimately became a big mirror. Learning how to love and accept myself, embrace my own gifts and understand my personal challenges has helped me be a better parent. I think brains are amazing, and I'm so glad there is such a wide variety of them in the word.
- I think practicing self-care and balancing my family/work life is hard too. What I have learned in the last few years is that the more I have authentically committed to own self-care, the more everything else falls into place with my family. And, its a process that constantly requires attention. The more that new parents authentically engage in self-care, the better parenting feels. I also know that sometimes, even getting started feels impossible. I've learned a few tricks along the way that I can't wait to share.