Minimizing Breastfeeding Disparities and Helping Mothers Overcome Common Challenges, From an IBCLC

Our guest blog from R.N. and IBCLC, Tania Joline, discusses existing breastfeeding disparities, why she is passionate about helping moms and babies, and some of the most common challenges she encounters with her clients.

Authored By:

Tania Joline

Tania Joline is a registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant. Her passions include women’s health, breastfeeding, and newborn education. She currently practices in the Washington, D.C. area, where she resides with her family. Connect with her on Instagram @bebejadore or see her YouTube channel.

Understanding Breastfeeding Disparities

Although breastfeeding is an amazing experience that provides paramount nutrition for your newborn, it can also be a difficult journey filled with an array of emotions and challenges. My breastfeeding journey went well because I had the education, the equipment, and the support. However, I am cognizant that breastfeeding can be challenging, tiring and frustrating. As a lactation consultant and a neonatal nurse, I am aware of the benefits that breastfeeding offers mom and baby. Despite these benefits, women of color - particularly Black women - have the lowest breastfeeding duration and initiation rates. Recognizing that breastfeeding can help decrease some of the health disparities that black women face, I feel compelled to speak about my role as a lactation consultant and proper use of Medela products that can help increase the initiation and duration rates in the Black breastfeeding community. 

I became a lactation consultant after years of witnessing how beneficial expressed breast milk was to the fragile NICU population. From decreasing the risks of respiratory illnesses, allergies and gastrointestinal diseases, breast milk is truly the gold standard.  Breast milk is filled with essential nutrients and provides antibodies. In addition, breastfeeding creates a bond between mother and baby that can’t be duplicated. After the birth of my son and going through my own journey, I decided to become an International Board-Certified Lactation consultant (IBCLC) with the purpose of encouraging and inspiring women of color to breastfeed. My goal is to provide support, evidence-based information, and education while addressing the challenges related to initiation and duration of breastfeeding.

Addressing Common Breastfeeding Challenges

Most of my clients are first time mothers who have a desire to breastfeed. They are often referred through an agency, word of mouth, or social media. For the most part, they have already met with a lactation while in the hospital. Visits consist of discussing their goals and feasible ways to achieve them. Whether they want to exclusively breastfeed, pump, or both, a care plan and accessible resources are given at the end of the visit. The services are provided in clinics or in the comfort of the mothers’ home and are covered by most insurance companies. This allows me to see a wide range of women from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. The most common issues are latch-related, as well as low milk production and the ability to pump at work.

Proper Latch:

Latch-related issues are common and can have a great effect on milk production. Often, when the latch is poor, it’s because it is not deep enough.  A baby needs to have both the nipple and the areola (pigmented skin around the nipple) in order to begin milk flow. The difference between a proper and incorrect latch is noticeable. A rhythmic suck and swallow-breathe pattern is apparent and lips are everted (not turned inward). A poor latch is often indicated by nipple pain and, in the long run, cracked nipples. To prevent this, breaking the latch and repositioning is necessary.

Milk Production:

“The more you nurse, the more milk you make.” This is the most common sentence shared with my clients. Coupled with hydration, rest, and a proper diet, milk production can be sustained for an extended period of time. I think the concern arises when mothers are not able to quantify the amount of breast milk given. We are drawn to numbers and are visually persuaded. While moms may not know how much their baby is eating, here are some indicators of a sufficient supply: baby’s urine output, behavior post-feed, and adequate weight gain.

Ability to Pump at Work:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of the reasons black women struggle to breastfeed is because they return to work earlier.  Finding the balance to meet the demands of breastfeeding and work can be challenging. Some workplace environments are not covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act, preventing women from properly establishing breastfeeding before returning to work. Although laws have yet to be changed, there are ways to maintain milk production while at work.

Products that Can Help

Medela has a selection of products that can support a breastfeeding and/or pumping mother. Whether pumping in the car, at work, or at the bedside in the NICU, Medela has working professionals covered.  As a working mother who has lugged multiple bags to work to maintain milk production, I am aware of the challenges.  I quickly found that compact and portable products were a necessity. Medela’s new Pump in Style® with MaxFlow™ fits that description. It is light yet effective, offers mobility and is user-friendly. It has a 2-hour battery life and allows working moms and moms on the go to pump when and where she sees fit. 

Other must-haves that can help mom’s breastfeeding and pumping journey are Medela’s breast milk storage and feeding products.  This kit contains everything needed to safely store expressed breast milk. I have used this storage system, and it truly is complete. The bags don’t leak, they are BPA-free, and the bins offer ample space for customized storage and organization.

Finally, my priority is to support and educate mothers wishing to breastfeed. As a nurse and a breastfeeding mother, I understand that the journey isn’t always easy - but it is always worth it. Although disparities still exist, there are ways to overcome them.  Through proper support, education, and equipment, all women can have a fair chance at breastfeeding.