Advice from One MD to Another on Supporting Breastfeeding

Posted May 01, 2015 by Todd Wolynn, MD, IBCLC, MMM

Todd Wolynn
Todd Wolynn, MD, IBCLC, MMM

By 1971, only one in five moms in the US even attempted to breastfeed. Formula had become the “norm” for infant feeding, and, in the process, we’d lost three generations of breastfeeders. The loss of this experience, from grandmother to mother to daughter, left a huge void in the natural teaching of the art. And the cruel irony of it all is that, in many instances, our healthcare system worked hand-in-hand with formula companies to create this loss.

I’m often asked how I, a man, got involved in breastfeeding medicine. The truth is: I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And that experience made me the right person.

During my pediatric residency, one of my physician-mentors chose a project to train pediatric residents in breastfeeding medicine. It even sponsored participants to sit for the IBLCE exam. So, in 1995, I was proud to add IBCLC to the MD after my name.

I received what would be considered extensive breastfeeding support training during my residency, but I still remember how uncomfortable I was when I did my first ‘solo’ lactation consultation. I remember being apologetic to the breastfeeding mom, and letting her know that this was in fact my first independent lactation consultation. She said she was just thankful for any support.

I believe I did provide some help and support for that mom and her baby. And I know I was a lot more helpful after I worked with my 100th breastfeeding mom. After I’d working with my 1,000th breastfeeding mom, I was pretty solid. This doesn’t mean I got every breastfeeding mom and baby to breastfeed successfully. But it does mean I was more experienced, more confident, and more resourceful in the care I provided.

When I talk to new and established physicians about supporting breastfeeding, I ask them to think back to what drove almost all of us into medicine—a love of science. Some of us were chemistry buffs or physics freaks (or, like me, biology nerds). Whatever science we love, at almost every doctor’s core is a desire to figure out how things evolved, what makes them work, and why they succeed. So I tell physicians point blank: somewhere between high school science class and residency, a lactating breast somehow transformed into a form of kryptonite for most OB-GYN.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And, more importantly: it shouldn’t be that way.

The good news is med schools and residency programs are—slowly, surely, but finally—starting to include lactation and breastfeeding in meaningful ways in their curricula. Still, most physicians ready to promote and support breastfeeding will likely not have the good fortune of all the training I received. But that’s okay. We all have to start somewhere. And we’re all the right people. We just have to put ourselves in the right place at the right time.

Here, just to get you started, are five simple things to do once you get there:

Be Encouraging. Hope is precious; never squander it.

Be a Good Listener. Doing that really will get you most of the way.

Be Authentic. Be honest and real, and the trust will follow. Both ways.

Be Respectful. Inform, and then support a mom as she wants.

Be Compassionate. This is the how it should start. And how it should always remain.

Todd Wolynn MD, IBCLC, MMM is a board-certified pediatrician and an International Board-Certified lactation consultant for more than 20 years, and he currently serves as the CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics, the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh and the National Breastfeeding Center.


Add your comment





sickle cell disease SCD advocacy Baby-Friendly breastfeeding Pediatric journal Best Fed Beginnings infant health safe sleep IM CoIIN QI quality improvement flexibility family partner parent partner vision screening nichq perinatal quality measures sustainabilty preterm birth tips PDSA cycle baby box infant mortality family engagement eccs coiin immunizations health equity health disparities accreditation astho onboarding collaboration engagement partnerships larc nashp new york wic new york state hospitals mom mother partners epilepsy data AAP early childhood pdsas texas community support learning session children's health new technology engineering transgender collaborative learning planning PDSA planning paralysis underplanning analysis paralysis vision eye health smoking smoke-free housing second-hand smoke toolkit e-module dental care oral health underserved populations health inequity public health Maternal and Child Health Journal leadership engagement indiana medicaid perinatal regionalization sudden infant death syndrome national birth defects prevention month birth defects pregnancy planning one key question prepregnancy health preconception health public breastfeeding support families patients experts insights CHOPT childhood obesity innovation food desert telemedicine TBLC breastfeeding supporting prematurity racial disparities audiology ehdi follow-up illinois talana hughes vulnerable populations sports asthma soccer basketball obesity football SIDS Pokemon Go gamification smartphones interconception care birth spacing issue brief contraceptive use postpartum care CoIN HRSA early childhood trauma NHSA community health consumer advocacy womens health interconception health teenage health PATCH wisconsin missouri risk appropriate care community health workers SCD< infographic infant mortality awareness month inspirations childrens health national breastfeeding month maternal health patient engagement hearing loss hearing treatment pediatric vision eyesight pre-term birth early-term birth SCD clinic los angeles LOCATe CDC levels of care neonatal care maternal care smoking cessation project safe sleep practices neonatal abstinence syndrome NAS opioids maternal and child health MCH Family voices quality care mental health hydroxyurea SCDTDP men dads testing change data sharing state government city government apps sleep AJPM preconception care senior leadership breastfeeding support video series access BQIH exclusive breastfeeding long-acting reversible contraception unplanned pregnancies social determinants of health health innovations Best Babies Zone CoIIN baby boxes Rhode Island progesterone rooming-in patient and family engagement healthy weight healthy lifestyles primary care telementoring ECHO video conferencing socioemotional health childhood development pediatric Tennessee interview National Coordinating and Evaluation Center medical-legal partnerships mobile app disparities perinatal care overweight obese healthy weight clinic wellness pilot sites data collection education resources paternal engagement risk-appropriate care preterm infants high-risk babies Ten Steps public relations social movement reversible contraceptives medical home pediatric medical home patient transformation facilitator PTF skin-to-skin rooming in prenatal smoking information visualization charts SUID postpartum new mother webinar AMCHP QI Tips ongoing improvement fourth trimester partnership quality and safety coaching leadership support year end holiday message reflections gratitute Medicaid data doctor relationship PQC perinatal quality collaboratives vision care vision health evidence-based guidelines ASH health and wellness healthy living healthy eating home visitors home visiting programs March of Dimes APHA results evaluation supplementation formula reduction video infant loss social media leadership Berns Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding sustainability stress prenatal care data capacity epidemiologists surveillance data PFAC community partners preconception and interconception care motivational interviewing Native Americans ADHD NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scale ADHD Toolkit system design care coordination skin to skin newborn screening reduce smoking aim statement safe birth Texas Ten Step skin-to-skin contact 10 Steps staff training small tests acute care mother-baby couplet collective impact population health preconception Newborn Screening Program substance abuse breast milk formula milk bank crisis first responders NYC improvement healthcare health system sickle cell diease treatment protocol family health partner maternity care Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network Health Outcomes Cross-Sector Collaboration Knowledge Sharing Child Health