Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dear AnMed Health: Breastfeeding support is important!

I recently heard that Jennie G's, the mom-baby boutique of the Women's and Children's Center of AnMed Health, will soon be closing its doors. I worked in this shop for several years and loved it. Mostly, I loved the ladies I worked with and I loved those times when a mother came in needing help and we were able to give it.

You see, this mom-baby boutique is not just a collection of baby clothes and knick-knacks. The ladies of Jennie G's--the ones who work in the shop every day and see the customers--have a common desire to help others, especially new moms. What deeply concerns me is the fate of the breastfeeding support that is available in Jennie G's. I don't think everyone is aware of all that is offered, so here is a detailed list of what I consider to be most important.

1) Hospital-grade breast pump rentals. When I was pregnant with my first daughter, a woman with tear-stained eyes and her husband came into our shop. They sat down at the table and as I prepared breast pump rental papers, she asked when my baby was due. I told her May 21, but that I hoped she might come a little early. "Don't say that," the mom told me. Her baby had come too early and because of this she and her husband were forced to go home with empty arms while he stayed in the hospital. She would have slept on the floor if they had allowed it. Going home without one's baby, for however short a time, is heartbreaking. It goes against nature and no one should have to experience it. But when a mother must experience it, shouldn't she at least be able to easily rent a breast pump so she can maintain the breastfeeding relationship she wanted? I don't see how a hospital can expect to gain a woman's trust for helping her to bring a baby into this world if they can't even be counted on for a breast pump if she needs one.

2) Nursing bras that fit. Some pregnant and nursing women require bras well outside of the size range available in most retail shops. Jennie G's carries nursing bras at least up to an H cup. Even in average sizes, Jennie G's carries bras and nursing wear which are extremely hard to find in our area. Bras are one of those items which must be tried on, so it is difficult to order them online. Also, a supportive bra is not something a breastfeeding mother should have to wait several days to receive. She may be uncomfortable, and possibly even in pain (mothers have come into the shop crying over this). She may not feel comfortable going out in public. She needs it as soon as possible, and over the past few years the ladies at Jennie G's have done their best to meet this need. Bra fittings are sometimes even done in the hospital rooms at the woman's request.

3) Breastfeeding supplies and accessories. Many things can be purchased at Target, but some things can't. There are certain obscure items that some women require to maintain their nursing relationships, and they can get these items quickly and easily at Jennie G's. Quiz: An adoptive mother is working to develop a milk supply for her newborn. Before welcoming her precious new arrival, she takes supplements and medicine to bring in a milk supply without having given birth, and she pumps frequently with a hospital grade pump. Finally, her baby is here! She desperately wants to nurse the baby, but she still doesn't have enough milk. How does she nurse the baby, get necessary nipple stimulation to increase her supply, and see that baby gets enough milk? Answer: A supplemental nursing system. You can't find these just anywhere. Jennie G's not only has them, they also have someone to explain how they are used--which leads me to number four.

4) A kind, compassionate certified lactation educator. Vicky Corbett of Jennie G's saw a need and wrote a letter explaining why she felt extra education in this area would benefit AnMed Health. She went to classes, read books, and received her certification, which has helped her help women with a wide range of breastfeeding issues. Yes, AnMed Health does employ a lactation consultant (IBCLC) and she is wonderful. She is a friend I met while working in the shop and her help was so valuable to me as I learned to breastfeed my first daughter. However, she is just one lactation consultant and she only works part-time. She happened to be on a well-deserved vacation with her family when my first child was born, so I didn't get the benefit of an immediate consult. I have friends whose babies were born on weekends or holidays and they did not get to see her either. AnMed Health is getting a super deal with Vicky Corbett and they don't even realize it. She takes care of Jennie G's and helps women with breastfeeding issues when the lactation consultant is not available. Sometimes the lactation consultant even calls Vicky to ask questions about pumping, because she's become an expert. She makes the hospital look, in my opinion, much better than it actually is. AnMed Health has not made breastfeeding support a high priority, but women come looking for help and they find it anyway. Taking Vicky's help away from women will send the message that AnMed Health is not interested in supporting a woman's breastfeeding relationship with her baby--and breastfeeding is a huge factor in preventing illness in babies. Since patient safety is something the hospital claims to be gravely concerned with, it has no excuse not to get on board with lactation support.

5) A safe, caring place for the new nursing mom. It's not always easy to be a new breastfeeding mother. The fitting room at Jennie G's has a comfortable rocking chair and offers the peace and quiet that some moms and babies need. Sometimes mothers are found nursing their babies in the restroom across the hall from Jennie G's and they are welcomed into the shop. Perhaps a mother has come to the hospital for a postpartum appointment and stops by the shop to chat about her breastfeeding experience. Within Jennie G's, stories are told, tears are even occasionally shed, and help is given. I realize no money is made off of this--not directly, at least--but it is impossible to place a price tag on it. AnMed Health should be grateful for this feeling of community that is fostered within its walls. This aspect of Jennie G's boutique exemplifies AnMed's tagline of "we're in this together" perfectly. You are hurting and I care. You are having problems nursing your baby and if I can't help you, I'm going to get you in touch with someone who can. I think this is about as close to the "art of caring" as one can get.

Jennie Gilmer, for whom Jennie G's is named, took a risk and pushed for AnMed Health to be opened so that women would have a safe place to have their babies. Important men laughed at her but she persevered to get women in our community something she felt they needed. She didn't do it to make money or to make herself famous. She did it because she made a promise to God to help women and their babies. Closing Jennie G's and depriving women of the support it offered is an insult to her memory.

So what do I think should be done? Jennie G's closing forever is sad, but taking away lactation support from women is inexcusable. There are some things you do not cut no matter how grim things get financially. This should be one of them. Keep the breastpumps and the supplies and a minimal selection of bras in the Women's and Children's Center. These few items will not take up much space; Jennie G's is mostly full of just-for-fun unnecessary stuff the managers pick up or order at market. If there absolutely isn't space inside the Women's and Children's, space should be made at the pharmacy on Greenville Street. Last time I visited, there were plenty of unimportant items on display there (candles, women's fashion accessories, other items that can be picked up at the mall). Space can be found if you look hard enough. It would be much better, of course, to have these things at the Women's and Children's Center for the mothers' convenience. If you've ever had to carry a fussy newborn across numerous parking lots while suffering from an episiotomy or c-section incision that throbs painfully with every step you take, you understand why.

Perhaps most importantly, Vicky should be asked to continue offering lactation support at the Women's and Children's Center. She has a passion for it, and AnMed Health has a shortage of it. This is one of those important things you make time and money for. Your patients--that is, your paying customers--count on it. A second lactation consultant should have been hired years ago, but Vicky's expertise in not only breastfeeding but also pumping and usage of breastfeeding accessories has done a great job of camouflaging this shortcoming. I believe women will notice a difference in quality of care when she is gone. Losing her to another location would be a waste.

I really don't think this is too much to ask, and I would be willing to bet a lot of women in our community will agree with me. It's not too much to ask at AnMed Health. Not of the hospital which wants to be "recognized and celebrated as the gold standard for healthcare quality and community health improvement." Do you think it is? I sincerely hope that soon I will have some good news to share about AnMed Health. I hope the sad loss of Jennie G's is met with a plan to create something new to benefit mothers. I hope there will be arrangements made for services that truly do exceed expectations. I know in my heart that this is possible, and I anxiously await the news. Until then, I hope you who are in a position to change things take the above listed needs of mothers to heart.


Former employee, mother to one baby born in the W&C, and concerned community member

If you are a local mom who has or may in the future seek care at AnMed Health, please join me in spreading the word and letting them know a removal of these benefits from the W&C is unacceptable. I would suggest sending an email or letter with your concerns to the patient advocate and asking to have it forwarded to a manager/director of home care and the Women's and Children's Hospital, as this affects both. Contact information can be found here.


Beth said...

Yeah, I was offered no breastfeeding support because I delivered over the weekend. The nurse that I had knew absolutely nothing about breastfeeding so I left knowing only what I had read. Carey was kind enough to come over and help me and if it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have had any form of support.

I love going in there! Even if it is just for the cutesy stuff and I haven't needed the pumps or bras.

For this pregnancy I left AnMed because I felt that they wouldn't respect my wishes and are more worried about the bottom line and lawsuits. I wouldn't have the birthing experience I'm hoping for.

I like my job (that is connected to the hospital) so I won't say anymore negative things about them...but I agree with where you are coming from and it's a shame to hear that they are closing Jennie G's. Do you know when their last day is?

Janet said...

Jenny--I personally made use of both #1 and #2 on your list, so I agree with you that Jennie G's fills an important role in the hospital. Any idea why the store is closing? I suspect that the store is independently-run and simply leases the space from the hospital. No doubt the reason is financial.

Jenny said...

Beth--I don't know exactly when the last day is but I think it is fairly soon. I will try to find out, or they may know in the shop if you stop by.

Janet--Jennie G's is a part of AnMed Health Home Care, along with the pharmacy at the North Campus, Medical Equipment and pharmacy on Greenville Street, and Impressions in the Cancer Center. While this is probably a financial issue within home care, I think something should be worked out between departments if necessary to keep what women need in the W&C. I probably should have explained things better but since I was writing this to send to the hospital I didn't think about it.

Rebecca said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you, Jenny. People think that because breastfeeding is natural, we need no help or preparation to do it, but hello! Pregnancy and giving birth is natural and we spend months and provide dozens of people to assist with that!

When my daughter was born, I had a very difficult time breastfeeding. My mother had not breastfed and none of my sisters of friends had children, so I had no one with experience to ask for advice. The hospital my children were born did not offer lactation help other than to explain latching on. I did not expect or no how to treat cracked, painful nipples. No one was available to tell me if I was using a breast pump correctly, and I never knew how much milk I should be expressing. Because I was in the middle of a semester in college, I naturally would need to pump, but I had no idea where I could do this in privacy, how to travel with the pump, how to keep it clean, and had no way to store my expressed milk, which means my daughter had to be supplemented with formula. To top this off, she was very jaundiced and her bilirubin count would not decline. I was advised by the pediatrician to stop nursing because this "might be" what was causing it. Yes, stop nursing -- not pump and dispose of my milk for a couple of weeks, but stop. This led to painful engorgement, and eventually, the end of my milk supply. Were there one knowledgeable or educated person I could turn to for information, advice, direction, or demonstration, things may have turned out differently and I may not have lost out on a valuable connection I desired with my baby. I'm telling you - nothing makes you feel more like a failure as the inability to do something 'natural.' The second time around, I was better prepared for what was ahead of me. Why, in all those OB appointments and hospital visits before my daughter was born, when all those medical personnel asked me if I was going to nurse - why didn't one of them prepare me for the experience?

Jenny G's provides a very needed AND valuable service that the medical community needs to recognize. Thanks, Jenny, for bringing this to everyone's attention.

Anonymous said...

So eloquently written, Jenny. I, too, am heartbroken at the upcoming loss of jennie g's. As that one lactation consultant at AnMed, I refer new moms DAILY to the shop and, you're right, I count on Vicky and Kelly. Keeping me informed about tubing issues for breastpumps and giving moms the information that they need to use breastfeeding accessories correctly is just a couple of the ways that they lend their support. I've heard many stories of moms coming into the shop on the weekends, when I'm not available, and getting the help that they so desperately need in a timely fashion. It also gives me peace of mind to know that I have two more cheerleaders that will provide praise and encouragement for breastfeeding&assist mom to find the help that she needs instead of telling mom "you tried and that should be enough". We need much,much more of that support in this exact location. You know how committed I am to this profession and I feel tremendously blessed to be one person that can help to make breastfeeding work for new moms. But, there are many days that I leave, after pouring my heart and soul into helping moms, wishing I could have done more. Since it has not been possible to hire another IBCLC, the help that jennie g's and Vicky provides has certainly helped to fill that gap. I agree that breastpump rentals and breastfeeding accessories should be kept within the walls of the W&C Hospital. Having to take your new infant to another location while you're recovering from childbirth would just be one more roadblock that a mom must face in her desire to continue such a worthwhile relationship with her baby. I'm confident that AnMed will be able to come through with a plan that will show the community how committed our organization is to breastfeeding.