Jacqueline Stevens was working in the NICU at Valley Health in Winchester when she realized a love for helping new moms bond with their babies.
One of the most difficult 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 just so excited when it finally works out,” she said.
Remembering her experience with her son, who’s 21/2, Katrina Rockwell, 35, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, said that Stevens made a frustrating experience less stressful.
“It was quite the journey,” Rockwell said. “I went into it thinking it was going to be natural and easy, and it wasn’t.”
When it isn’t easy, she said, you tend to blame yourself and think you must be doing something wrong.
“Every day that I didn’t get it, I was stressed out,” she recalled.
Now expecting her second baby in February, Rockwell said she’s grateful to have had Stevens in her corner while struggling with getting her son to latch.
“It is extremely emotional from start to finish, and I never thought that I would say that, but it is,” said Rockwell.
“It’s a learning process for two people.”
Rockwell, who sought a lot of advice online, said Stevens ended up being her best resource and that mothers should go with their gut when deciding whose help they accept.
“[Stevens’] help was the best help because she didn’t try to push me in any direction,” Rockwell said.
A registered nurse who has been with Valley Health for nearly 15 years, Stevens has been on her own journey to be a lactation specialist.
To become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, she needed 90 hours of training and needs to re-sit for the exam every few years, just as physicians do.
She pursued the certification and job switch after learning more about the process from friends who are lactation specialists and becoming fascinated with how they teach moms to feed their babies.
Many factors can go into helping mothers with breastfeeding, she said. Babies may struggle with latching because of anatomical issues. Additionally, they may have trouble learning to suck, or they may not be getting enough milk.
A typical day finds Stevens meeting with families, teaching mothers how to position the baby in a comfortable way or teaching care partners how to help.
Rockwell credits much of her success to the help she got from her husband Matt.
“I had a lot of support from my husband, and I think that is really important,” she said.
While she was deciding whether to pursue breastfeeding, he was supportive of either choice. She also recalled him taking her to appointments, sitting through them with her and helping in the evenings with 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 the baby and the mother.
Mother’s milk not only contains nutrients and antibodies for her baby, it also changes based on a baby’s needs.
“You cannot recreate breast milk,” Stevens said. “Mom’s milk is meant just for her baby.”
As a baby breastfeeds, their saliva is communicating with the glands in the breast, informing the body if the baby is sick and what the breast milk needs to contain for the baby’s optimal health.
“Moms are superheroes in their own way,” Stevens said.
Breastfeeding can help decrease allergies, asthma, diabetes and ear infections while also helping babies with dental structure and growth of their jaw and muscles.
Additionally, she said breastfeeding benefits new mothers.
It lessens the chance of postpartum depression because it’s something only the mother can do for her baby, Stevens said.
Though preferable, breastfeeding isn’t always an option, and Stevens said each family needs to make the best decision for themselves, as well as how long they plan to continue breastfeeding a child.
In addition to helping mothers start their breastfeeding journey, Stevens also helps them in completing that journey.
“How can I wean comfortably?” is a question she often hears.
“Every day is something very different,” she said.
“We’re looking at the whole picture and the family, not just the mom and the baby,” she said. “It takes a lot of people to make breastfeeding successful.”