What led you to become a lactation counselor?
Painful nipples, shallow latching, an undiagnosed lip tie, unprofessional and outdated information from lactation consultants, breast hypoplasia and more. My first breastfeeding journey was a huge learning curve and definitely sparked my passion for helping other mothers feed their babies.
It wasn’t until about 6 months into breastfeeding that I felt confident and began to actually love this new bond I had developed with my baby. This was a beautiful thing that we fought so hard for. It made me emotional to think of the mothers out there that may never get to experience it because they didn’t receive the education or support they needed.
It was during my training with Breastfeeding USA to become a certified breastfeeding counselor to gain volunteer hours while working toward my IBCLC, that I created the Mother Made Lactation Instagram page to share with the public what I was learning. My Instagram page reached 20,000 followers at a year old, in early 2021.
What advice would you give to a mom beginning her breastfeeding journey?
Find a lactation consultant in your area and make an appointment. More than that, make sure she aligns with your values and meshes with your personality. Breastfeeding is vulnerable, nerve racking, and sometimes scary. You deserve to feel supported and loved by everyone on your team. If you feel uneasy, find someone else! Don’t let one bad apple discourage you from seeking professional support.
The other thing that comes to mind that is often overlooked: a cozy space in your home for nursing and/or pumping. A stressful home environment can negatively impact milk supply and postpartum healing. Surround yourself with happy things, a spot for your water cup and snacks, and try to relax while nursing or pumping for your baby. If you have a toddler or other children, set up a space nearby with quiet activities they can work on.
What is the most important postpartum care advice you would offer?
This goes hand in hand with my previous answer. I cannot stress enough how important it is to create a healing environment to come home to. Prepare and freeze nourishing meals ahead of time, focus on healing foods, prepare activities or new books to keep other children busy while you’re resting with baby, invest in a postpartum doula if you need the extra support (someone that cooks meals, does dishes, laundry, etc.), and don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. I see so many mothers trying to bounce back just because they “feel fine” but on the inside, their body still has a wound the size of a dinner plate that it is trying to heal. Not to mention vaginal/pelvic floor healing.
How do you help moms overcome their birthing fears?
Knowledge is power. Educate yourself on informed consent, find a provider that supports your birthing goals, and research all things labor and birth to help instill confidence if you’re insecure. Birth can be scary, but it’s the environment and people that make it that way.
Having an informed, supportive partner or support person is just as important. You’ll need someone that knows how to advocate for you in some cases. Hiring a professional doula is highly recommended.
Are you familiar with breast massage? Have you found it to be a helpful tool?
Yes, gentle breast massage is an extremely helpful tool during breastfeeding that should be practiced prenatally. It is useful for clogged ducts, encouraging let down, engorgement, etc. This is an invaluable tool for breastfeeding mothers that can be learned from a lactation consultant or a professional massage therapist trained specifically in breast massage.
What was one of your greatest challenges in motherhood?
Learning to trust myself. My intuition was whispering in my ear all along, but it took me almost a year with my first baby to actually listen to it, and stop trying to ignore things I already knew. Once I began to act on my intuition, open my mind to other options, end relationships with friends and health providers that did not support the kind of life we wanted and instead found ones that did; my confidence as a mother, and my relationship with my husband and children began to flourish more than I thought possible.
The vision the Lord has placed on your heart for your family is important. Sometimes we have to learn how to lay down our pride and pursue grace, letting God lead the way in the process.
What was one of your greatest joys?
Watching my babies grow and thrive on my breast milk has been pure joy. Helping other mothers achieve the same has been life giving. My life has been so blessed by the women that share their feeding stories with me. I’m grateful for the challenges that led me to be in this space.
Tell us about your postpartum journey. What caught you by surprise? What was your greatest struggle and how did you work towards overcoming it?
For my first baby, my largest struggle wasn’t embracing my new identity as mother, but rather learning to trust myself with the new job I was given. I definitely jumped back “into action” sooner than I should’ve, but I didn’t feel it much physically. I also didn’t have the professional support I desperately needed to heal from my traumatic hospital birth. This caught up to me during my second pregnancy and postpartum journey.
I’m currently less than a year postpartum with our second. So very different from my first, this time I am much more informed and trust the choices I’ve made. However, despite my preparation, life circumstances led to us having to move out of our home at 36 weeks pregnant. He was born in the bedroom at my midwives holistic birth center two weeks later, and we moved across the country a few months after that. And again six weeks later. And again. And we just moved to a new town for the fifth and final time within a year.
This postpartum season has been anything but “normal” and I have a lot of healing to do, emotionally and physically as we settle into our new home. I have found a wonderful pelvic floor therapist and am working with a Christian mental health counselor.
My best advice- seek professional help, mamas. Give yourself grace and understand it’s okay to be in “survival mode.” Just don’t live there.
You can find Ashley and the Mother Made community over on Instagram, @mothermadelactation. Ashley also has a lot of free resources for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers on her website www.mothermadelactation.com.