Meet Amber McCann; A Lamaze International 2013 Annual Conference Keynote Speaker

This year’s annual conference is a just a short two months away, and the more I learn about what Lamaze International has in store for conference attendees, the more excited I get! The venue is the wonderful city of New Orleans and the theme is “Let the Good Times Roll for a Safe and Healthy Birth.”  I know I am going to leave just brimming with new information, resources and ideas for my teaching and doula work, along with lots of information to write about on this blog.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Amber McCann, IBCLC one of the two keynote speakers at this year’s conference.  Amber is an expert on breastfeeding and social media, and this topic is *hot* right now!  Her dynamic personality along with her enthusiasm and knowledge for reaching and working with new mothers as they transition to motherhood and breastfeeding convince me that her keynote “Today’s Mothers are All Thumbs: Cultural Competency for Digital Motherhood” will be fun, funny, informative and thought provoking.

Learn more about the annual conference, the great speaker line up and registration here!  Don’t hesitate to join in the fun, I know it is going to be a fantastic weekend of learning and networking.  Look for a guest post from Amber soon on Science & Sensibility.  We will also be highlighting Dr. Richard Waldman, our other keynote speaker here as well, as the excitement for the conference builds.

Sharon Muza: How has social media and the digital age helped women who are planning to breastfeed or are breastfeeding?

mccann head shotAmber McCann: The world just got a whole lot bigger! Before the digital age, our opportunities to find resources were largely word of mouth. We found information and education in the same places that most of the other mothers in our circles found information and education. NOW, we are able to multiply the experiences, stories, “come, walk beside me” kind of support that we previously could only find in a limited manner. The brave women who came before us did so much to pave the way and now we’re able to take what they did and bring it to a larger audience.

SM: Has the internet, social media and other digital sources created problems for women who are hoping to breastfeed or who are breastfeeding?  What about those who found themselves unable to breastfeed?

AM: On the internet, everything is stronger, louder, and more intense. We have better resources…but it also means we have unhelpful or non-evidence-based resources. We have greater access to trained volunteers and professionals…but we also have access to those who aren’t qualified. We have a tremendous amount of cheerleading for those who reach their goals…but we also have tremendous disparaging of those who encountered things in their path that made breastfeeding extremely challenging. It can be a tough place and requires a certain amount of critical thinking and “gut trusting” for women who are new to the journey. I work very hard to help the good outweigh the destructive.

SM: What are your favorite resources for breastfeeding women on the web?

This is like asking my mother to choose her favorite grandchild! There are so many that I’ve loved watching blossom and grow. For general information, I’m a big fan of The Leaky Boob Facebook Page. Jessica Martin-Weber has done a profoundly fantastic job building the page and she supports families to make the decision that is right for themselves and their baby. She provides a well-balanced perspective and I find myself gravitating towards that kind of support. I also have a very special place in my heart for the sites/groups/communities that have sprung up around breastfeeding challenges that have an extra level of complexity to them such as the Facebook groups for moms with insufficient glandular tissue, adoptive breastfeeding mothers, and transgender birth and breastfeeding. These groups embody all that I love about the internet: bringing together those that previously might have felt they were all alone.

SM: What are your favorite digital resources for birth professionals on the topic of breastfeeding?

AM: My favorite resource for evidence-based information about breastfeeding is Kelly Bonyata, an IBCLC from Florida, has build an incredible website with easy to understand facts and support for all kinds of breastfeeding situations. I think it is a great “go to” for anyone working with new families. Of course, there will be times where we are required to dig a bit deeper so don’t hesitate to reach out to the IBCLCs in your community.

SM: What digital resources can childbirth educators use to enhance their classes when covering breastfeeding topics?

AM: YouTube is your friend!!! There are so many excellent (and often hilarious!) videos on YouTube that would be wonderful additions to any breastfeeding class. Your classes are full of all kinds of learners and videos are great at reaching several kinds. As a visual learner myself, I need to SEE what it is that I’m learning and so often, in lecture format classes, I feel a bit forgotten. But add in a video or two and I’ve been able to take in information in a way that works for me.

SM: How has your practice as a Lactation Consultant in private practice changed over the years?

AM: When I became an IBCLC and decided to pursue private practice, we were living just outside of Washington, DC and my youngest had just entered kindergarten. I love the flexibility it provided and the ability it gave me to make the business model work for me and my family. Because I recognized that the women who were in need of my services were largely congregating online, I specifically modeled my practice in a way that supported these women. It was a wonderful and busy few years!

Earlier in 2013, I was offered a position with the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh that sounded like my dream job (and I’ll admit that, so far, it totally is!). I work several days a week providing direct clinical care to breastfeeding families in our office where I am supported by pediatricans and other providers (many of whom are also board certified lactation consultants). It is very much a team model, much different that in my previous practice where I was a lone wolf. In addition to clinical care, I provide social media and marketing communications for the practice. I’m so thankful that my employer has chosen to look carefully at the skills of each employee and really plug us in to what we do best.

SM: How did you come to be an IBCLC?  What was the path that brought you here?

AM: I often tell people that my path to becoming an IBCLC started when my daughter was 6 days old and I was sitting in tears on the stairs of our home. My entry into motherhood was a bit traumatic and on that day, I was at the end of my rope. I couldn’t find the support I needed and didn’t know where else to look. I decided that this pain and frustration had to be for good some day.

I didn’t put energy into figuring out how that would work until my children were all approaching school age. I knew that I’d need to put my time and energy into some new pursuits and breastfeeding was a good fit. Our pastor used to talk about “finding our sweet spot”…that place where what you are good at meets together with what you are passionate about. That place for me is in supporting new mothers. Lactation consulting affords me the opportunity to be exactly where I was made to be.

Like many in my field, I do not have a medical degree. My undergrad program was in sociology and I also did some Master’s work in Urban Ministry. As I pursued my IBCLC, I had to take classes and pour my time and energy into obtaining both the knowledge and experience necessary for the job.

SM: What has been the most rewarding thing about your work, in all of its forms?

SM: I find the most joy when the moms I work with are able to gain confidence that they can achieve whatever tiny goal we’ve set…it might be as simple as “I’d like you to sit here for 15 minutes and do nothing but hold this baby skin to skin on your chest. Do you think you can do that?” A nod of the head and smile is usually enough to energize me through the rest of the day. I want moms to feel strong and capable and so many of them come away from their early moments of parenthood as anything but. I’m honored to be one of the first people to be invited into that sacred space. I don’t take it lightly and my hope is always that the moms I encounter come away feeling as though they were perfectly created for this task.

SM: What has been the most frustrating obstacle about your work, in all of its forms?

AM: I’m sure this isn’t a popular answer but the most frustrating thing for me is when a family doesn’t feel empowered to make the decision that is the right one for them, whether it is what I would chose for them or not. I stand whole-heartedly behind the incredible public health benefits of breastfeeding and I work every day to support it in our culture. But, ultimately, it comes down to one family and the resources, support, and energy that they have. It is their child; they get to make the decisions. As new parents, we hear a cacophony of voices, opinions, and strong statements. As birth and breastfeeding professionals, we make them. As friends and family, we make them. As members of a community, we make them. I wish more families felt supported instead of preached at. Because many families have already experienced this before they encounter me, I often have to do a bit of reassuring before we can get down to the business at hand.

SM: After becoming an LC, how did you get drawn to the idea of using social media to spread your message?

AM: As you’ll hear in my presentation at the conference, the internet saved my life as a new mother…and I’m promising you right now that I will break down a little as a tell you my story. Those were the days before it was “social media” and it was instead message boards, emails, and listservs. But, even when I was completely incapacitated with fear, the deep heart knowledge that someone I had never met face-to-face could reach out through my computer screen and speak love to me was life-changing. I guess after that experience, I didn’t know how to provide support to new mothers in any other way.

SM: What do you wish that pregnant women knew about breastfeeding before their babies arrive?

AM: I wish they knew that their bodies were perfectly designed for the tasks ahead of them. It seems to me that birth and breastfeeding are the two biological processes that our culture assumes WON’T work. From the moment a family announces their pregnancy, they hear a lot of messages about how things might not go the way they hope. I wish instead that they were overwhelmed with messages that affirm that their bodies can do the things they will have to do. Of course, as in all things, these processes sometimes break down. But coming at it with a “Yes, I Can!” mentality instead of a “I’m Afraid It Won’t Work” one can go a long way towards reaching our goals.

SM: What do you think about the increase in using Skype and Google Hangouts to offer remote breastfeeding consultations?

AM: I’m quite fascinated by it and have participated in “virtual consults” myself. It is a real challenge though and I would strongly encourage families to seek face-to-face support first. I tell my clients that doing consults like this is like practicing with “one hand tied behind my back”! Even virtual consults require a consent and full history of both mom and baby. I find them especially helpful in older baby issues (mom going back to work, weaning) and rarely do them for newborns. But, often, especially when the appropriate care in unavailable in the community, these kinds of consults can be a breastfeeding relationship saver!

SM: What do you want childbirth educators to know about teaching breastfeeding in their classes?

AM: Don’t dwell on all of the things that can go wrong. Often, in an attempt to gather the maximum amount of information before their births, families desire details about the minutia of these wonderful biological processes of our body. They want a “fix” for every possible challenge. But, doing so can strengthen fear. I’m a firm believer that the best message a family can take from prenatal breastfeeding education is “You were created for this. Trust your body.”

SM: Tell us something about yourself that we would be surprised to learn about you?

AM: Hmmm…besides the fact that I’m deathly afraid of frogs and love really terrible reality TV? Many would be surprised that, until very recently, I had never seen a baby born other than my own. I’ve just returned from a trip to Papua New Guinea, where I was able to shadow and assist in the maternity ward of a remote mission hospital. Even though I’ve seen thousands of women breastfeed, I’d never seen one birth and I was both inspired and honored by the experience.

SM: Can you offer us a sneak peak about some key takeaway points of your upcoming keynote presentation?

My favorite takeaway from all of my presentations is the same takeaway we hope to give our clients and students: “You Can Do It! I Believe in You!” So many in the birth and breastfeeding field feel intimidated and overwhelmed by social media, much like those we serve who feel the same about their upcoming entry into parenthood. I hope to provide the same type of encouragement to my colleagues in regards to social media that we all provide to parents.

More about Amber McCann

Amber McCann is a board certified lactation consultant. Her current interests are connecting with mothers through social media channels and teaching others in her profession to do the same. In addition to her work as the co-editor of Lactation Matters, the International Lactation Consultant Association’s official blog, she has written for a number of other breastfeeding support blogs and serves as the social media coordinator for lactation related organizations such as: GOLD, Lactation Education Resources and Nourish Breastfeeding Support. McCann’s expertise not only derives from her experience in coordinating social media outreach and writing content for various blogs, but she has also furthered her credibility through her participation as a volunteer as well as engaging in numerous public speaking and presentation opportunities advocating for her passion.

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