August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month: Meet EveryStep Healthy Start Nurse Consultant Stephanie Van Roekel

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Breastfeeding is one of the most natural connections a mother can have with her baby, but just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s always easy. EveryStep Care & Support Services offers breastfeeding support and education for new moms. Stephanie Van Roekel is an EveryStep nurse consultant and frequently assists new parents with the challenges of breastfeeding.

Stephanie’s interaction with moms begins before the baby is born. “I speak with each participant who is referred to me about the benefits of breastfeeding before they deliver and ask them if they have thought about how they’ll feed the baby,” says Stephanie.

The benefits of breastfeeding are substantial. Infants who are breastfed have reduced risks of:

  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Severe lower respiratory disease
  • Ear infections
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Diarrhea/vomiting

Breastfeeding also helps the mother. It can lower her risk for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Breast cancer

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends infants are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding while introducing complementary foods for at least one year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2020 Breastfeeding Report Card, Iowa falls short in each of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ breastfeeding recommendations for infants:

Indicator

Iowa

National

Ever breastfed

80.2%

84.1%

At 6 months

54.1%

58.3%

At 12 months

32.5%

35.3%

 

EveryStep’s post-hospital visits help encourage parents to continue or re-start breastfeeding. “Often people didn’t start breastfeeding or started and didn’t feel it was going well while in the hospital, so they stopped after they got home,” says Stephanie. “Sometimes during my visits, they voice that they are interested in starting again and I work with them on re-establishing their milk supply. It is usually possible for people to establish or re-establish an adequate milk supply even one to two weeks after birth.”

Some families choose to integrate formula into their baby’s feeding routine, so Stephanie will talk with them about supplementation. No matter what a parent’s feeding choices are, EveryStep ensures they are connected to a WIC program that will give additional nutritional support and education to the family.

“Recently, I was helping a mom who just got home with her baby and wasn’t able to get baby latched well, so she was alternating between pumping to give expressed milk and giving formula, and was pretty exhausted from that routine,” says Stephanie.  “She was very determined to nurse her baby and was willing to try my recommendations.” The recommendations worked and Stephanie stayed in touch by phone to ensure the baby was getting enough milk.

Stephanie weighs baby during follow-up visits, but because most families don’t have access to a baby scale daily, Stephanie teaches parents other ways to ensure their baby is getting enough milk, such as the number of wet and dirty diapers changed each day.

“The truth is that sometimes breastfeeding can be a difficult journey for some,” says Stephanie. “I like to view my role as support.” That support continues even during a pandemic. “[During COVID-19], I found myself being creative, sending images of different nursing positions and even pictures of what a typical diaper of a breastfed infant looks like!” When visits can be in-person, visuals such as pictures or baby dolls are used to demonstrate, and Stephanie coaches the parent during the feeding session.

“Breastfeeding is a journey,” says Stephanie. “I think our participants find our support during the journey beneficial.”

EveryStep Care & Support Services provides medical and social services for women, children and families, adults and seniors, and communities in Des Moines and across Iowa. All programs are free or low-cost, and they are confidential. For more information, visit https://www.everystep.org/services/care-support.