|Ensuring the best possible birth outcomes in Wisconsin takes a multidisciplinary approach; that’s why we are sharing your perspectives and bringing together the pieces of the perinatal puzzle!
We interviewed owner of Mal’s Milky Way, Abbey McLaughlin, RN, BSN, CLC, about her career as as a Certified Lactation Consultant, NICU nurse, home visitor, educator, and parent in Brown County, Wisconsin.
What first drew you to this profession?
I am a NICU nurse, which allows me to be involved with the human milk feeding experience in the premature infant population; but what really drew me to the lactation world was my own personal experience as a mother. I grew passionate about human milk feeding and, unfortunately, witnessed first-hand the lack of support in this field.
Describe your path to this profession.
A placental abruption and a cesarean section delivery was just the rocky beginning to my human milk feeding journey with my daughter, Mallory. I struggled nursing in the hospital and felt I did not fully comprehend the directions from the lactation staff following surgery and sleep deprivation. When I got home, I looked around with my crying baby and just thought, “Now what?”
My daughter was not gaining weight, but I had a good milk supply. Breastfeeding did not become easy for my daughter and I until she was four-months-old. My difficult journey inspired me to make this journey more peaceful for other families along with normalizing human milk feeding and the need for support during the postpartum period.
How many years have you been in this profession?
I got my certification in June of 2021 and launched Mal’s Milky Way, LLC in July of 2021. I am just starting my journey in this profession but have been making close connections in my community!
What is the most rewarding thing about your profession?
The most rewarding thing about my profession is being able to connect with families during such a vulnerable time in their lives. I am able to tailor their plan of care to their goals as a family and what will work for them to get there. I get to know my clients on a personal level so I can individualize their care.
The best part is when I do check ins with the clients after their visits and hear that they are showing progress towards or have met their human milk feeding goals! It is the best feeling to know I am bringing peace to the journey and providing families with the tools to feel empowered and independent.
What is the most challenging thing about your profession?
The most challenging part of this profession is the vulnerability of the human milk feeding journey. It can be very defeating for a parent to admit that they need to ask for help with human milk feeding.
Our society makes this journey out to be beautiful and peaceful, but while it may be natural, it is most definitely not instinctual. It is a learned skill between both parent and baby and requires quite the lifestyle change, especially in the newborn period!
It is challenging to get clients to reach out for help, to feel comfortable allowing me to watch pumping/feeding sessions, or to be honest about their struggles at times (and understandably so). It can be quite frustrating when we feel our bodies are not doing what we feel they are supposed to!
Are there any expectations you had about this profession that you have found differed in reality – for better or worse?
Being so new in the profession, I have not come across anything quite yet. It is just shocking to see the lack of support out there for lactating parents. Human milk feeding is definitely not prioritized in our community even though it is set to be the standard feeding method per our healthcare teams.
Describe what an average work day looks like for someone in your profession.
Since I am a private practice lactation counselor, my days look quite different compared to the ones you see in the hospital. I travel to families’ homes to do my visits or meet with them virtually if they are far outside the Brown County area. I have longer visit times (typically 1-2 hours per family) to allow for deeper connection and better evaluation of the full picture and difficulties at hand.
In addition to direct family visits, I also provide prenatal education classes to better prepare families for the human milk feeding journey. I have also been working on making connections between local pediatric dentists and chiropractors to provide more holistic care for my clients and provide quick referrals for infants with lip or tongue ties.
So, every day looks pretty different for me as I individualize my care to each family and their needs.
Which books, podcasts, conferences, etc. would you suggest others in your field (or those interested in your field) should check out?
Wisconsin Association of Lactation Consultants (WALC) host a conference every year, as well as the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee. Lactation Education Resources also has wonderful courses for continuing education.
What skills does someone in your profession need in order to be successful in their career?
In order to help families with their lactation care, one should begin with a course that allows them to be eligible to sit for a certification exam. These courses allow you to learn the science behind human milk making and how to handle difficulties along the journey. You can also continue your education or continue on to sit for the international board certification exam. There is always so much to learn in this field, so I always try to stay up to date on current research and best practices.
What advice do you have for someone looking to join this profession?
My advice is to make sure you are passionate about this work. This is such a vulnerable time in families’ lives and sometimes there is not always a problem. Sometimes families just need some support or reassurance that all is well. Families can sense the passion you put into your practice!
Where can people learn more about joining your profession?
Lactation Education Resources has a wonderful Where to Start page on their website that breaks it down for you! I took my class through the Healthy Children Project, Inc., Center for Breastfeeding and got my certification through the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice.
What else do you wish people knew about your profession?
I wish people knew the lack of lactation support out there for families and the huge need for more professionals to fill this gap!
Thank you, Abbey, for taking the time to share your experience with us!
We want to hear your story! Click here to share your perinatal perspective.