Today, I have the honor of sharing an interview I did with Austin Rees, a local Maryland IBCLC, Babywearing Expert, and owner of Breast Skin Sling. I first got to know Austin through some local Facebook groups. She was so helpful and took a lot of her own time to answer my questions. I then met her in person at a birthworker gathering and later at a Gena Kirby Rebozo workshop. Her warmth radiates from her core and is felt by everyone who comes in contact with her. Her knowledge of breastfeeding, babywearing, and honoring the sacred in us all is a welcome blessing to our community. Check her out at BreastSkinSling.com.
How did you get into lactation consulting?
My mother was a La Leche League Leader (LLL), and one of the first International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC). I grew up in an environment where I was taught to trust my body to carry, birth, and nourish my baby. Soon after my first daughter was born in 2003, I began attending regular LLL meetings and began my process to become a LLL leader at the end of that year.
What made you choose IBCLC?
I chose the IBCLC path to enhance my clinical skills to combine with the communication and counseling skills I acquired as a LLL leader, to meet the needs of more families.
How is IBCLC different than other lactation consulting certifications?
There are many forms of breastfeeding support to meet a mother's needs. Examples are peer counselors, educators, specialists and professionals. IBCLCs are recognized as a health professional. In order to become an IBCLC, one must complete 90 hours of lactation-specific education and specified college level health courses, obtain 300-1000 clinical practice hours, and successfully pass the board exam.
What’s your favorite part about working in lactation consulting?
My favorite part by far is watching a mother lean back into her own instincts and observe the deep relationship blossom with her child.
When do you start seeing clients?
I specialize in prenatal consultations. I have found over the 11 years working with mothers that if they have the foundations of how Milk works, how birth affects Milk, and skin-to-skin, they emerge into Motherhood trusting their bodies, their babies, and their milk. Misinformation or common "booby traps" can be avoided if they have the foundations before the baby arrives. I include in my prenatal consultations time to create a local core support team complete with professionals and peers. Parents have a list prepared to rely on if they have any questions, concerns, and needs that include specialists and contact information. They enter parenthood supported by their community and not alone. Postpartum lactation supported is beneficial to observe the mother/baby dyad and address any concerns one-on-one. I do not provide postpartum hands-on assistance at this time, but do recommend other local IBCLCs. However, I am able to provide virtual support through phone consultations in situations that do not require hands-on care. Examples would be questions about returning to work, starting solids, weaning, toddler nursing, and sleep.
What lactation consulting services do you offer?
Currently I provide in-home or virtual prenatal consultations and virtual postpartum support.
What other services do you offer?
I offer personal Babywearing consultations, and classes. I host Sacred Mother Blessings, Sacred Baby Blessings, Sacred Weaning ceremonies, and local Milk Circles. I am the Co Founder of Sacred Milk, and will teach others how to facilitate Sacred Weaning ceremonies online, and assist in facilitating live Sacred Pregnancy Instructor retreats this year. Locally, I will provide Sacred Pregnancy and I AM Sisterhood full and mini retreats.
Why is breastfeeding important to you? To our culture?
Breastfeeding is important to me because it is an intimate relationship with our children. We communicate through our Milk. Our stem cells in our milk turn on genes in our baby's organs. Milk is more than a form of nutrition; it nourishes not only the child but ourselves. It is important in our culture because the breast is a living organ. How we feel about our breasts before Motherhood, during pregnancy, and the outcome of our Milk relationship impacts us emotionally. Providing education that empowers women to trust themselves and their bodies and their babies creates a community of attached, secured, healthy families.
Why is babywearing important to you? To our culture?
Babywearing is important to me because it provided a safe, secure environment for me to connect with my children and keep them close. Babywearing is important to our culture because it provides skill that meets the needs of both child and caregiver. Babywearing promotes bonding, security, support, and a safe way to keep baby close during the day. Babywearing has been passed down from many cultures and because of this we have a variety of types of carriers to meet different body types and situations.
How have you seen skin-to-skin help parents adapt to parenthood?
Skin-to-skin care is an expectation of our newborns. A mother, or a caregiver's chest is a newborn's natural environment. When parents provide this time with their child it turns on specific nerves needed for development and increases the love hormone, oxytocin. This affects the dyad's brain. Fathers who provide skin-to-skin to their babies express a greater sense of responsibility, more confidence, and report they feel in control.
What’s your number one advice you give to pregnant women?
Wow, the number one advice? Create your core support team prenatally to include both peers and professionals who can support you in all ways- postpartum care, lactation, local Sisterhood, bodyworkers (for both mother and baby), spiritual guidance, meal support, home support (care for other siblings, household needs) etc. Have these things set up and available before you need to call on them.
How do you feel you’ve contributed positively to our local community?
I am still new to our community, but so far I feel I have been able to impact the women who have attended the Sacred Pregnancy retreat, and I AM Sisterhood retreat I've co-hosted with Jessie Bernstein through the Sacred Living Movement MD. By providing the platform for deep listening and self-growth for these women, they emerge into powerful community members. My wish is to continue supporting families as they prepare for the birth of their child and begin their Milk relationship. May word of mouth spread and I consistently provide the care and support local families and community members need to lead confident lives.
Two Saturdays ago, I made my way to the Edgewater Community Library in Edgewater, MD to attend a Babywearing International of Southern Maryland meeting. BWI of SoMD has various meeting times and locations, which you can check out on their “Free Meetings” page. The one at the Edgewater Library is usually held on the 3rd Saturday of the month at 9:30am (but double check their calendar before you head over).
The four volunteers at BWI of SoMD were (from left to right):
These volunteers were very knowledgeable of the many different types of baby carriers out there and helpful in finding the right fit for every parent that came in. They even gave prenatal advice to help parents-to-be! Libby took time to answer my questions and show me how to use a Meh Dai, a woven wrap, and a ring sling.
Anyone who is interested in learning about babywearing and baby carriers is welcome to attend for free. BWI also offers a membership ($30/year) that allows parents to check out and borrow any carrier for one month at a time. This is a wonderful resource because as infants grow, their baby carrier needs change, so instead of investing a lot of money in a carrier that you may not need or use later, you can try on and check out one of their carriers. This particular chapter of BWI had 2 overflowing suitcases worth of carriers so there are plenty of options to choose from!
Babywearing International was founded in 2008 and has since grown to over 85 chapters throughout the United States. Their mission is “to promote babywearing as a universally accepted practice, with benefits for both child and caregiver, through education and support.” (1) Benefits to babywearing include: happy and healthy babies, bonding between parents/caregivers and babies, and comfort and convenience. There are lots of different carriers and BWI volunteers want to help teach parents about their different uses to maximize the benefits for parent and baby.
To find your local chapter, check out https://babywearinginternational.org/chapters/.
Birth Boot Camp Certified Doula (BBCD)