Q&A with Lora Steffie, IBCLC

Would you mind telling us about your background? Why did you decide to become an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant)?

I have been a Registered Nurse in Neonatal Intensive Care, Pediatrics and Obstetrics since 1999 and I am currently attending Drexel University and will graduate with my Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Degree in June of 2017. Eleven years ago, on June 28th, I became a mom and, as I nurse, I felt I should know everything about childbirth and breastfeeding and it would be a simple and easy process transitioning that knowledge into my motherhood career. I could not have been more wrong! I had no idea how difficult breastfeeding could be for a brand new mom. I knew early on, in my motherhood career, that I wanted to help other new mothers and, as though like a calling, breastfeeding support just sort of found me. With only basic breastfeeding knowledge and my own personal experience, I found myself teaching a class at the hospital. Quickly, I knew I wanted to learn more, to help more and, thus, my desire to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant was born. I was truly privileged to have several peers who guided me through the journey to become an IBCLC and one pediatrician peer who decided he would join me on that journey (yes ladies – I said HE – a male pediatrician turned IBCLC). That Pediatrician has since convinced me to join their practice and assist with opening the doors to a great new venture, The Lehigh Valley Breastfeeding Center. (Editor's note: that male pediatrician is my father-in-law - amazing, isn't it?! - and runs Children's Healthcare in the Lehigh Valley.)

If you could tell nursing moms one thing only, what would it be?

Knowledge is key. Create yourself a breastfeeding “tool box” of educational resources with books (such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding), classes (find them at your local breastfeeding center or hospital), and online resources (such as Kellymom.com). Also know where your nearest IBCLC and breastfeeding support group is located. You can find your nearest IBCLC at https://uslca.org/resources/find-an-ibclc. (Editor's note again: I'm a huge fan of La Leche League and find a ton of support in my group that meets in Hoboken and Jersey City. The leaders are a massive wealth of knowledge and so kind and nurturing, and it's really comforting to be surrounded by a group of like-minded moms every month.)

In your experience, what have you found to be the biggest challenge for breastfeeding moms? Can you share any advice to deal with that challenge?

The biggest challenge for most new moms that I see is a lack of a support system. We know it “takes a village” to raise a child but it also takes a village to create a successful breastfeeding and parenting experience for many. For many women in their 20s and 30s, their moms did not breastfeed, as that was not the cultural norm in the 80s and 90s, so we haven’t really seen women breastfeeding to learn the up-close and personal stories of breastfeeding. I tell all my new moms to join a support group or find a new mom’s group, so they have not only the professional support they need but also the peer support they so greatly desire. Presently, I run a weekly group for new moms and they have become like family to one another. I consider that group to be one of the most rewarding things about my career. As I watch new mothers foster other new moms, helping and guiding them, enabling for more successful breastfeeding relationships, I realize what a great thing our center created time and time again.

Another big challenge is medical providers that are unfamiliar with breastfeeding, providing inadequate advice in their attempts to support the new mother. It is imperative that new moms do their research and pick a breastfeeding-friendly care provider (Pediatrician/Nurse Practitioner/Family Physician) that will assist and guide them through the peaks and valleys of breastfeeding.

In your experience, what's the biggest misconception about breastfeeding? What would you say to moms (or others) who believe it?

The biggest misconception I see when teaching prenatal breastfeeding classes is moms-to-be truly believe breastfeeding is going to hurt. Certainly some nipple tenderness and initial latch-on discomfort (typically lasting less than one minute after baby is latched) over the course of the first 1-2 weeks is normal. Cracked, bleeding,crusty nipples and excruciating pain is not normal. Just as conceiving is meant to be a human survival skill, breastfeeding is also, and it’s not meant to hurt. When a baby latches incorrectly, he can cause nipple trauma. Expectant mothers should educate themselves during prenatal classes as to how to obtain an effective asymmetric latch, what a good latch looks like. Also, request help in the early days from an experienced lactation consultant who will teach you tips and tricks to obtain the best latch possible.

I believe there are a few keys to breastfeeding success - determination, a good support system and a solid education about it. What would you say is a key to breastfeeding success?

I would absolutely agree with your statement about the keys to breastfeeding success. First and foremost, you need confidence, determination, and drive to want to make the breastfeeding outcome successful. Also, that “tool box” of resources: books, classes, online resources, a local IBCLC, support groups and a medical care provider for your child that will support you in attaining your own personal breastfeeding goal, as that goal will vary from mother-to- mother.

I'm a huge proponent of normalizing breastfeeding. What do you think we can do to help the cause?

Breastfeeding our own children, whenever and wherever they need to eat, helps to normalize breastfeeding. My sister-in-law recently had a baby and when my kids came to visit, she wanted to cover up for “their sake.” I reassured her I want my three children to know where babies eat from and that breastfeeding is the cultural norm now, so they know it is perfectly natural and normal to breastfeed their babies. 

I would also encourage new moms to join their local or state breastfeeding coalition to help to advocate and promote breastfeeding as the cultural norm in the United States. New moms can also participate in large community events that help to draw attention to the cause of normalizing breastfeeding. In August, many communities will hold The Global Big Latch On, so find a location near you. If you cannot find a location near you, come join our center, who will be cohosting a Big Latch On event in Hellertown, Pennsylvania on August 6th.

It seems like every week there's a new product or technology being introduced to help nursing moms nurse more comfortably or confidently. What's your favorite nursing mom must-have(s)?

All you really need is your baby and your breasts, and a bit of fortitude as you and your baby learn a beautiful breastfeeding waltz. However, there are lots of products inundating the marketplace for breastfeeding, and while some of them are great, most do not replace the knowledge and reassurance of a qualified lactation consultant, preferably an IBCLC.

That being said, I encourage all my client’s to purchase a high quality, double electric breast pump, such as the Spectra S2. Many health insurance companies will supply you with a double electric breast pump. When utilizing your insurance, contact qualified breast pump supplier to be sure you get the best pump and supplies possible, such as The Breastfeeding Shop or Yummy Mummy and do not pump too early, as the baby’s effective latch and suck should be used to set your milk supply the first 3-4 weeks of life. If you pump and feed during those very early weeks, you may end up with an oversupply and a whole host of other related issues.

I would also recommend a good breastfeeding pillow, and they are not one size fits everyone. Try them on, see how they fit your body type. My personal favorite is the My Brest Friend, which provides mom with back support and a nice firm surface to support the weight of baby’s body. 

Any final thoughts?

My hope is that your readers, after reading this, will know that while breastfeeding is natural and normal it is not always easy and uncomplicated. One thing is for sure, breastfeeding will always be the best option, as the health benefits last both mom and baby a lifetime!