By Martelle Esposito
This week, we talk with Kelly Wysocki-Emery, RN, IBCLC who works with moms and dads just after birth in the hospital and at several pediatrics offices as a lactation consultant. She provides breastfeeding and pumping support and information, answering questions and helping families troubleshoot to find solutions that work best for them in that moment and beyond.
What is your passion in life?
If I had to choose a passion, I would say it is experiencing new cultures, and interacting with people who are different than me. My first loves were psychology and sociology, and I still feel a pull for those disciplines. And, I have loved my times working with refugees both here and abroad; they have a lot to teach us about the human spirit.
What is most challenging about the work that you do?
The most challenging role I play is as a lactation consultant in the hospital, working with the mothers and babies in the first 1-2 days. Babies are so sleepy, as are mothers, and very often unable to “kick in” and start nursing. Birth can be hard on an infant as well as his/her mother, and those first few days can be quite challenging.
Can you describe an experience in your work where you felt like you were on top of the world?
A good day for me is when I can help get all the babies latched on, nursing well, without hurting mother’s nipples. A “cherry on top” is when I get an email from someone who tells me how much I helped them get through the difficult times, and how they are still nursing months or years later. It’s hard to beat that!
How has your work with families evolved over time? How have you grown in your work over time?
When I first started working with breastfeeding families back in 1994, I was very much “by the book” and did not see much flexibility. Nowadays, I can see how complicated people are and how little control we have sometimes. Preserving the relationship between mother and baby, as well as the mother’s mental well-being, is more of the focus for me. Of course, I still work very hard to help mother reach her goal of latching and/or pumping, but those tasks are not the only things on my mind as I work with a family.
Can you describe an experience with a patient who you felt like you really made a difference in their life?
One mother in particular stands out to me. She was meeting me for a third time to work out some oversupply issues and nipple and breast pain. I could tell something more was going on. As we had built rapport, I felt comfortable asking her about her birth and her postpartum experience. No one had really asked her about how traumatizing and scary her birth had been, and people had been dismissing her feelings of anxiety now that she was home with baby. Having someone to open up to without shame and judgment was very comforting to her. We got her hooked up with a therapist right away, and she was able to work through her experience. We are still in contact, and that is super rewarding.
Can you describe a time when you were impressed by the strength of one of your patients?
I am always impressed with the mother who perseveres, no matter what people say, and just keeps on trying to latch baby to the breast and/or keeps pumping to protect her supply until baby can actually latch. I have gotten emails randomly about women I worked with who tell me how their baby finally latched after months and months of trying and pumping. Pumping full-time is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, and I am awestruck by those moms who do it.
Can you describe an experience with a patient where you felt inspired by them and their parent journey?
I am always impressed with the mother who knows exactly what is right for themselves and their babies and does not give a s*#t what people say. That goes for women who choose to pump and bottle feed, to formula feed, to work outside the home, to stay home with their babies, and all the choices in between. To have the confidence to say, “this is what I’m doing, and I don’t really care what you think,” is admirable. I am inspired by that strength.
In your opinion, what is the value of taking time to connect with your patients and build trust?
Taking the time to really get to know the patient and their “story” is huge. I always like to ask the new mother about her birth and what her hopes were for breastfeeding when she was pregnant. This gives me an idea about where she’s at, what she’s thinking about, and what she’s hoping for, which will help me direct my care.
Can you describe an experience where you witnessed a colleague do something that made you think, “I don’t want to be like them”? What was it about the experience that made you feel this way?
Unfortunately, I experienced this on a recent trip to Greece working with Syrian refugees. I witnessed a lactation consultant shame a mother for using formula and essentially blame her for her own mastitis (breast infection) symptoms. I was flabbergasted, and I would never want to be that way. The mother was doing the best she could under the circumstances. It made me ill.
What advice do you have for new parents?
My advice to new parents would be to set up a support system ahead of time. Tell people how they can help, and then let them help. Parenting a new baby is hard, and you are not meant to do it alone. Reach out to friends, family and your community and stay in touch.
When it comes to breastfeeding, my advice is to take a long-term approach, and don’t get too discouraged if breastfeeding doesn’t go well in the first few days—it rarely does, actually. If baby cannot latch, or if it’s too painful to latch, keep baby fed and happy, protect your supply with pumping and/or hand expressing, and reach out for help ASAP. While you’re pregnant is a good time to search out the names and phone numbers of lactation consultants—ask your doctor and your friends for recommendations for trusted help. Once baby comes, it’s more difficult than you think to hunt down a phone number and pick up the phone to make an appointment.
And finally, I want you to know that even if breastfeeding does not work out in the first week or two, it does not mean it will never work out. With time, support, and practice, babies usually do figure it out and go on to be great breastfeeders! You don’t have to master things right out of the gate.