Chaya Stern, RN, IBCLC, Discusses What New Moms Need to Know
Young mothers need more support than we often realize. The demands of a newborn, the exhaustion that follows sleepless nights, and the myriad responsibilities that persist relentlessly, make this stage one of the most difficult to acclimate to.
Chaya Stern, RN, IBCLC, knows this firsthand. When she gave birth to her first baby 10 years ago, she thought everything would be easy. As the eldest of her siblings, she had observed her mother navigating the newborn stage seamlessly; wasn’t it like that for everyone?
Feeding her baby was a particular challenge, and once Chaya learned to master that, she decided to build upon her career as a nurse to become a certified lactation consultant. Her message to new moms? There is help out there. In between classes and consultations, Chaya took some time to explain what that help looks like for mothers who are struggling with helping their babies – and their own selves – thrive.
What does your day look like as a lactation consultant?
I’m in private practice, I primarily do home consultations, as well as private and group classes. I also volunteer with La Leche League and run a monthly group. I have four kids, but with the right support I’m able find the right balance. I take calls and guide people over the phone when their situation can be resolved in a short conversation, I’m passionate about what I do, helping moms in these ways, and I make myself available to do that whenever I can.
How long did you train for this position?
I started training a little over eight years ago. I first was a La Leche League leader and later became board certified as a lactation consultant. I needed 1000 hours of clinical hands-on work with moms and babies, and 90 lactation education credit hours in addition to my nursing degree, which I already had when I started on this path. It took me about two years of training with knowledgeable women in my field and working hands-on with moms and babies to become certified.
If you were already a nurse, what prompted you to continue your education and become an IBCLC?
We’re not meant to do mothering alone. There are so many questions that arise. I learned this from experience with my first baby, and it’s what made me want to become a lactation consultant. I’m the oldest child and I thought nursing my own baby would come naturally and easily, the way it seemed when my mother had my siblings. I didn’t realize it’s a learned practice. I had to find support to make it work for my baby and me, and I realized that this is the kind of help that’s really needed for new moms. I decided to train so I could offer that support to others.
I know that mastitis is common. It’s really unpleasant to come down with fever and an infection while you are caring for a newborn.
If that happens, a doctor will help by giving you a prescription, but mastitis is not really meant to happen at all! With normal feeding, you don’t have pain. There are often barriers to the normal feeding process, such as health struggles or birth interventions, but even normal births and optimal health can lead to difficult situations that can be resolved. Usually, the problems stem from not knowing what to expect, how to manage that, and how to move forward in a way that will go well. Babies were designed to nurse. It’s a new experience that takes practice and adjustment. When there are struggles and questions, I’m the person to reach out to. There are different questions for different babies. Each situation is unique.
Why do moms call you?
Pain is one common reason. Sometimes the baby hasn’t gained weight or things just don’t feel right.
Isn’t there help offered in the hospital?
I had a nurse help me after I gave birth. It could be a hit or miss situation. Most recently, I’ve had clients tell me that the hospital was short-staffed, and no one came to offer assistance. I’ve been getting more and more calls from new moms in the hospital who have not yet been discharged but need help. That said, if they do offer feeding help in the hospital, take it. Ask questions and try to get off to a good start. But even with that, a new baby can be sleepy. After a few days, he will want to nurse more, and some moms will find that they have issues at that point.
What does a home consultation look like?
When I visit clients at their homes, I bring along my scale and weigh the baby before and after a feeding. It’s a highly accurate scale specifically for this purpose and can pick up the difference in grams. When you feed with a bottle, there are markers to show you how much a baby has ingested, but with nursing you don’t have that reassurance. The scale that I bring will do that.
I assess the baby and we work on latch and positioning. I take a brief medical history, and I work with the mother on a care plan so she will know what to do going forward. I’m in touch with the mothers following a consultation by phone or text. We’re usually in touch for quite a while after that initial visit, and what I love is getting calls from those same mothers that struggled initially, then they call back when they’ve reached their goals and it’s time to wean their babies.
Sounds like great care for a new mom.
A pediatrician looks exclusively at the baby. An obstetrician looks exclusively at the mother. I have two patients: the baby and the mom. I need to see how they work together. Mom’s comfort is a priority as well as potential problems with the baby, such as discontent, poor weight gain, or discomfort.
Do you ever pick up on non-lactation related problems?
Yes. Often, I’m the one who brings up referrals and resources. It’s not unusual to need extra support. Sometimes, there is more to the picture, such as depression. There are cues I would look for postpartum. Certain aspects of early postpartum days that are normal and can be worked out with more cleaning help, babysitting, or other care. When it comes to the baby, I check the body tone and skin condition, I look out for tongue tie, allergies and gut health, particularly if there is a rash. I see a lot of moms and babies, and it’s not unusual for a mom to ask more general questions, about going back to work or sleep patterns, for example. We take our time discussing all their concerns.
What advice can you offer new moms?
Trust your instincts. As a mother, you are the expert on your baby. If you’re getting advice from someone and it doesn’t sit well for you, trust yourself. There are so many things marketed out there but looking inward and remembering that you’re the expert on your baby is the most important thing to remember. Sometimes, that knowledge gets replaced with self-doubt. Follow your baby’s cues, and your instincts will be attuned to his. That’s the best recipe for success. You may need to tune out what you’re reading because your baby can be different from another baby. Incorporate your own style into parenting. If something works great for someone else but you’re not connecting to it, it might not be right fit for you.
What are basic things every new mother should know?
People often ask if there are foods new mothers should avoid, or specific things that are helpful to eat, but I say more often than not, mom should eat whatever she feels is right for her. Make sure to keep yourself well-nourished. There is no magical diet; the goal is to be nourished. Sometimes, a baby may have a specific sensitivity, but that is a special circumstance that can be dealt with if it occurs.
How can I tell a mom to cut out coffee? Generally speaking, a cup of coffee a day won’t have an effect on a baby.
What’s the best part about what you do?
A huge plus for me is the feeling of knowing that I have empowered women to be the best mothers they can be. They call me in pain and with problems, but we work through them. It’s a process that builds confidence and success that spills over into all areas of their parenting
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