Today we’d like to introduce you to Barbara Hardin.
Barbara, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My interest in breastfeeding began at an early age hearing my mother talk about my grandmother nursing each of her children for one to two years. But, I grew up in an era where women seldom breastfed, and when they did, they were pretty secretive. As a nursing student in the late 70s, I was thrilled to have had a clinical instructor who was a breastfeeding mom. She pumped her breastmilk during our clinical meetings and required us to read a book, one book mind you, about breastfeeding (Nursing Your Baby, Pryor, 1979). That was so much more breastfeeding education than most nursing students received at the time.
Early in my career as a Registered Nurse I began working with an underserved population of young mothers and infants as a Public Health Nurse in Chicago. I saw a desperate need to help moms connect with their babies to create necessary lifelong bonds. It was a matter of survival. I was fortunate that the organization that I worked for, The Visiting Nurse Association of Chicago, provided ongoing training programs to help nurses understand and facilitate maternal/infant attachment, learn its importance for normal infant and young child feeding behavior and development, and in the bigger picture, understand the lifelong implications of attachment.
It wasn’t until the births of my own children in the mid-80s that my interest in breastfeeding really took off. At that time, Lactation Consulting was a brand new field, with the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) credential being born in 1985. Becoming an IBCLC provided me an opportunity to do something I was passionate about while also using and developing the knowledge about maternal/child attachment I had gained as a Public Health Nurse. And, having a flexible work schedule while raising young children was an additional bonus. So, I began my private Lactation Consulting practice in 1988.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The early years were quite challenging. As with any profession in its infancy there is a lot of “learn as you go” as the knowledge base continues to develop. In the early days of private practice lactation consulting we were often flying by the seat of our pants, as it were. Here in Chicago, we were lucky to have three chapters of the International Lactation Consultant Association. And for ten years I was an officer in one of those chapters. The chapter meetings allowed IBCLCs from the entire metro area to gather once a month, share experiences, and learn from each other. Now, 30 years later, we know so much more through experience, development of clinical protocols and standardization of practices, professional networks and the growth of breastfeeding research.
Early on, referrals came mainly by word of mouth and by going out to doctor’s offices introducing myself. Today, social media and the availability of good breastfeeding resources make it much easier to reach and help families who need lactation support. The Affordable Care Act has been a game changer in increasing access to breast pumps and the making the services of IBCLC s more available to new mothers.
Please tell us about The Mother’s Milk Company.
The Mother’s Milk Company provides in-home consultations by an IBCLC to moms and babies experiencing a wide range of breastfeeding issues. Most families contact us in the early days or weeks of breastfeeding for help with difficulty getting baby to latch at the breast, painful breastfeeding, baby losing weight, parents not getting rest due to demands of breastfeeding and newborn care, undersupply or oversupply of milk, prematurity, mom returning to work or other special needs. Some parents will contact us just to make sure breastfeeding is going well. And this is a good reason too, because we have the time to spend with a new mom, unlike the hospital setting where staff may have a limited time. An in-home consultation usually lasts about two hours, so mom and baby can feel unhurried and be comfortable in their own home, as we work to resolve problems and craft a plan that works for mom and baby. Moms will often say they feel a sense of relief after a consultation. With a path forward, much of the worry is gone and usually getting much needed rest is easier with some of the breastfeeding kinks worked out.
I am fortunate to have esteemed colleagues who have worked alongside me for many years. Jean Vondriska and Juli Walter each bring years of experience, passion, dedication and their own unique style to the care they provide to moms and babies. We all continue to learn and refine our skills as the knowledge base we have to draw from is always growing. I would say our specialty is being breastfeeding generalists, able to help moms manage a wide range of complex breastfeeding problems while knowing when and who to refer to when a different type of provider may be needed. And while we are known for being knowledgeable and effective, moms have described us as nurturing, non-judgmental, supportive, and caring with an approach that is sensitive to mom’s and the family’s breastfeeding goals. We work hard at that and that’s something I’m proud of.
It is especially gratifying when moms send an adorable baby photo months after a consultation saying breastfeeding is going well thanks to the help and support they received from the Mother’s Milk Company. When moms call a second or third time with baby number two or three or refer their friends for help, I think it speaks to the high-quality care of care and support they’ve received. We also receive referrals from pediatricians, obstetricians, IBCLCs and other health professionals who trust us enough to refer their patients. And that speaks for itself.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
When I began this journey almost 30 years ago I had no idea where it would lead. The only thing I would have done differently is to be more active in community breastfeeding advocacy work. Early in my career as an IBCLC I had the good fortune to work with a group of Breastfeeding Peer Counselors, committed, strong women giving back to their communities. They taught me a lot about how to support a breastfeeding family.
I also was part of an innovative billboard project in the early 90s, developed to promote breastfeeding among women of color. We posted a dozen or so billboards in the city promoting positive images of breastfeeding. More recently, as a volunteer and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Area Breastfeeding Coalition, I’ve been involved in projects dedicated to making breastfeeding the norm in the Chicago area and in regularly bringing together breastfeeding professionals and other breastfeeding advocates for educational events. The impact of an organization like the CABC can really improve outcomes for moms and babies. And fortunately, there are many more social and organizational networks that now exist in the US and globally to support breastfeeding families. There is still a lot of work to be done before we are a breastfeeding friendly society and breastfeeding is the norm. I am happy to be making some contribution to this most human endeavor, breastfeeding.
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