Today I present to you an interview with someone who is in the midst of this profession every day: Sherry Spacco, a registered nurse and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Sherry is the President of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition and works as a lactation consultant at Newton Wellesley Hospital. I wanted to speak with Sherry to learn more about the work lactation consultants do and how she came to choose this profession. Spoiler alert: Based on Ms. Rosin's experience, Sherry would have probably advised her to stop breastfeeding sooner. She agrees with Ms. Rosin that hers is a thriving profession – and she celebrates this fact.
What led you to become a lactation consultant?
I went to a breastfeeding class with my cousin 32 years ago. We were both 18 years old. Prior to that, I had never heard of breastfeeding.
Wait, what? How is it possible??
I lived in a poor neighborhood where everybody was on WIC. Women got free formula and did not breastfeed. My cousin decided she wanted to breastfeed and wanted to take a class. I went with her and thought “This is pretty cool! If I ever have children, I want to breastfeed, too!” From that point on, it became a passion. Later I worked for a breast surgeon at Faulkner hospital and learned all about the anatomy of the breast and what breasts are really for, feeding babies!
So what has your career journey been like?
I thought I had to be a registered nurse to be a lactation consultant (you don't), so I went to nursing school. Started working as a scrub tech while in nursing school. Took a position as a postpartum nurse, cross-oriented to labor and delivery while working towards becoming an IBCLC. I stayed home during the day with my two boys and worked in the evenings when my husband was home.
What has this experience been like?
This is the most amazing job. I am very honored that moms let me into their lives to assist them with their babies. This is not a job to me, it's my passion.
What do you wish people knew about breastfeeding?
The real importance of the biology of human milk for human babies. Also, moms who plan to breastfeed should contact a lactation consultant while pregnant. Have a conversation and discuss her plans and goals. Start a relationship with a woman who is going to support you.
What are some major misconceptions out there that you wish you could clarify?
That all lactation consultants are crazy, radical, "lactation Nazis" that are forcing women to breastfeed their babies and making moms feel guilty. There is nothing is more infuriating. I’m not some strict teacher who is going to reprimand you for not breastfeeding. I’m there to support, not judge. I'd come to check on moms who just gave birth - and they would apologize for putting the baby in the nursery so they could get some rest. Or sometimes a mom comes in for a lactation consultation and I see that all she wants is to give up breastfeeding, but she feels so guilty about it, she wants me to “fix” her.
What do you do in these instances?
I tell moms it’s okay to quit. We need happy, healthy moms. If quitting is going to make a mom healthier, it’s absolutely the right choice. A happy mom is much more important than a depressed but breastfeeding mom. It’s not fair to the mom, it’s not fair to the baby.
I walk a fine line every day, with each mom I see. Is she enjoying the experience? Is my advice going to put her over the edge – or will it actually help her stay healthy and happy? I want moms to know that I love what I do and what I do is help moms feed their babies, however they want to feed their babies!