Jacqueline Stevens was working at Valley Health’s NICU in Winchester when she realized a love for helping new mums bond with their babies.
One of the hardest journeys for mothers is learning to breastfeed, and Stevens said she finds it rewarding to guide mothers through what can be a challenging experience.
“They’re so excited when it finally works,” she said.
Recalling her experience with her son, who is 2½, Katrina Rockwell, 35, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, said Stevens made a frustrating experience less stressful.
“It’s been quite a trip,” Rockwell said. “I went into it thinking it was going to be natural and easy, and it wasn’t.”
When it’s not easy, she says, you tend to blame yourself and think you must be doing something wrong.
“Every day that I didn’t understand it, I was stressed out,” she recalls.
Now expecting her second baby in February, Rockwell said she was grateful to have had Stevens in her corner while struggling to get her son to the breast.
“It’s extremely moving from start to finish, and I never thought I’d say that, but it is,” Rockwell said.
“It’s a learning process for two people.”
Rockwell, who has asked for lots of advice online, said Stevens is ultimately her best resource and mothers should follow their instincts when deciding what help they accept.
“[Stevens’] the help was the best help because she didn’t try to push me in any direction,” Rockwell said.
A Registered Nurse with Valley Health for nearly 15 years, Stevens has followed her own path to becoming a lactation specialist.
To become an International Board-certified lactation consultant, she needed 90 hours of training and must retake the exam every few years, just like doctors do.
She pursued certification and changing jobs after learning more about the process from lactation specialist friends and being fascinated by how they teach moms how to feed their babies.
Many factors can help mothers breastfeed, she said. Babies may have difficulty latching on due to anatomical issues. Additionally, they may have trouble learning to nurse or not getting enough milk.
On a typical day, Stevens meets with families, teaches mothers how to position the baby comfortably, or teaches care partners how to help.
Rockwell credits much of her success to the help she received from her husband Matt.
“I had a lot of support from my husband, and I think that’s really important,” she said.
As she decided to continue breastfeeding, he favored one or the other. She also recalled him taking her to her appointments, sitting them with her, and helping her at night trying to position the baby.
“He was there to help me learn,” she said. “He was also learning.”
Breastfeeding is often the best option for a family, and Stevens said there are many benefits for both baby and mother.
Breast milk not only contains nutrients and antibodies for her baby, but it also changes according to the needs of the baby.
“You can’t recreate breast milk,” Stevens said. “Mommy’s milk is only for her baby.”
When a baby suckles, his saliva communicates with glands in the breast, letting the body know if the baby is sick and what breast milk should contain for optimal baby health.
“Moms are superheroes in their own way,” Stevens said.
Breastfeeding can help reduce allergies, asthma, diabetes, and ear infections while helping babies build their dental structure and develop jawbones and muscles.
Additionally, she stated that breastfeeding benefits new mothers.
This reduces the risk of postpartum depression because it’s something only the mother can do for her baby, Stevens said.
While preferable, breastfeeding isn’t always an option, and Stevens said each family must make the best decision for themselves, as well as how long they plan to continue breastfeeding a child.
In addition to helping mothers begin their breastfeeding journey, Stevens also helps them complete that journey.
“How do I wean comfortably?” is a question she hears often.
“Every day is something very different,” she said.
“We look at the whole picture and the family, not just the mother and the baby,” she said. “It takes a lot of people to make breastfeeding successful.”