On a recent afternoon, Stephanie Lee sat in a chair in a first-floor bedroom, breastfeeding her one-month-old daughter, Margot. She was joined by lactation and family consultants Katie Skaggs and Kelsey Carroll, who launched their home-based business Coming Home LLC in February. They asked questions and provided advice – all the while cooing about Margot.
“Try to learn all of this on your own with a new baby yelling at you,” laughed Lee. “You need a lactation consultant. That’s why you need a team.
Lee had known Skaggs and Carroll for about eight years when she worked as an obstetrician-gynecologist at VCU Health and they worked in the mother-child unit at VCU Medical Center.
Skaggs and Carroll did not grow up with the intention of starting their own lactation and family support business. Skaggs was with the Richmond Ballet for 10 years while Carroll began a career as an ER nurse.
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It wasn’t until Carroll had her first daughter and Skaggs began pursuing a career in nursing that the two met and eventually started Coming Home LLC. The couple, who are both registered nurses and board-certified lactation consultants, offer home and virtual visits, including antenatal and neonatal consultations in the intensive care unit.
“When I wanted to start doing this, my whole thing was postpartum in general,” Carroll said. “I really wished there was easier access to more postpartum services for moms.”
Over the past three months, Skaggs and Carroll have helped many families in the area, reaching as far west as Powhatan County and as far south as Prince George’s County.
Forming a community for moms in general is key, Carroll said.
“Sometimes it’s that they don’t even know what’s normal and what’s not until they talk to another mom and you’re like, ‘Wait, do you urinate every time you sneeze? Skaggs said.
As an OB-GYN, Lee said the majority of patients she works with have been seen by a lactation consultant in the hospital at least once. There were a lot of changes that happened after that first visit, which is why places like Coming Home were so important, she said.
“I think there’s a lie we give moms that breastfeeding is natural and easy,” Lee said. “And I think that’s a real disservice to new moms because it sets you up in many ways for disappointment, or feeling like you’re doing something wrong, when in reality I think that there’s a lot of physical, mental and emotional work that goes into building a good breastfeeding relationship – and it takes support.
The two have now served more than 100 families in about three months, they said.
Ffrom nurses to business owners
With over 15 years of combined experience, Skaggs and Carroll know how to support moms. The business side, however, was a different story, Skaggs said.
“I think the hard part of being business owners is that we know how to do the lactation part — we know how to help moms,” she said. “But there are all these other elements of running a business.”
The team began to pursue strategies that would help their business, such as partnering with The Lactation Network. The partnership allowed those seeking services through Coming Home to have up to six visits covered by insurance with certain companies.
By being part of VCU Health, the couple had also gained a lot of attention through word of mouth, they said. In addition to their growing social media presence, many of their referrals come from midwives, pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists, and even a dentist.
“It becomes a question of, ‘How do you want to keep promoting yourself?'” Skaggs said. “We want others to know that we exist and that you shouldn’t be sitting at home struggling and not knowing there is help.”
As the pace picked up, a third lactation consultant was hired for the Coming Home team: Lisa Corbin, a friend of Skaggs who is also an IA and IBCLC.
With three consultants available, Lee said she was surprised at how quickly Coming Home responded. She had filed her application around 11 p.m. one evening and had received a response around 6 a.m. the next day.
“We don’t want to tell moms, ‘Yeah, we can help you a week from today,'” Carroll said. “From an outside perspective it might not seem like the end of the world, but when you’re that nursing mom and your nipples hurt and your baby isn’t eating or sleeping or loses weight and you feel consumed by this – we don’t really want to do that.
In Lee’s salon, Skaggs and Carroll were thrilled with their latest certification: they would be able to provide parent training in baby massage techniques. They also joked about being a newly created small business and learning how — and when — to pay workers’ compensation.
“We’ve got an accountant, we’ve got a lawyer — all the things you wouldn’t even think of,” Skaggs laughed.
“And now it’s a small business,” smiles Lee.
“And it’s been a whirlwind,” Carroll added, “but it’s been fun!”
Carroll said they would “build their empire” and recruit mothers they knew were interested in helping with breastfeeding and family counselling. They want to continue to expand their services and support mothers across Richmond, they said.
“I think one thing that seemed really important to Kelsey and me – and why we knew we’d be a good team working together too – was that we had very similar views on lactation and breastfeeding in the sense that we just want to meet you where you are in terms of goals and plans,” Skaggs said.