Thursday, June 30, 2011

Communicating & Counseling Skills

I cannot stress the importance of good communication.  Lactation Consultants must be able to effectively communicate and counsel moms, dads, couples, families, pediatricians, obstetricians, communities, neighbors, etc...We have an agenda, like so many other professionals do, and how we communicate it will often cause others to accept or reject our message.

I recently listened to the speech "Love Wins" at the CAPPA Conference and agree with the philosophy in all areas of life...raising children, maintaining a good marriage, sharing faith, promoting lactation...  My husband always says, "the one who gets angry loses--the argument and their reputation."  There is never a good reason to use fear or intimidation to manipulate individuals or convince them to breastfeed.  We must apply the "Love Wins" principle when giving breastfeeding advice.  Put yourself in the mom's shoes.  Often postpartum moms are exhausted, confused, sad, weepy, in pain and lonely.  Be compassionate.  Be gentle.  Be reassuring.  Be comforting.  Be kind.  Behave!  I have heard statements made by LC's that make me cringe.  Of course these statements come from LC's that also have terrible bed-side manners.  Let's decide now to improve the reputation of the profession by always being gracious.  Remember, "people to not care how much you know until they know how much you care."

Besides being kind and using common sense, there are some effective tools to use in communication.  I want to share the 3 Step Counseling Model because it is easy to remember and it works!
Climbing the steps to communication success
Three Steps to Communication Success: 

  1. Ask OPEN-ENDED Questions (I don't necessarily like the connotation of the word, but because it rhymes with the other two steps, I remember this step by associating it with the word "interrogate").

Open-ended questions are questions that cannot be easily answered with a "yes" or "no" or other one-word answers.  My favorite open-ended question is "How do you feel about breastfeeding?"  That can really open communication up and help get to the root of the problem.  Remember, our goal is to meet the mother's needs and this is one way to pinpoint what direction you will need to go with your counseling.

While asking open-ended questions, help the dialogue by using the following four probing methods to confirm understanding:

1. Extending
Get the rest of the story; example: “Can you tell me a little more about how you feel about what your mother said?”
2. Clarifying
Make sure you understand what the client means; example: “When you say that breastfeeding may be embarrassing, are you saying you may be embarrassed, or those around you?"
3. Reflecting
Let the patient know you have heard what she has said; example: “So, you think your mother would disapprove?"
4. Re-directing

Move the patient to explore a different related subject; example: “Besides milk supply, what other concerns do you have about breastfeeding?”
Now that communication is flowing...remember to constantly use the second step

This step encourages mom to continue opening up to says, "you are not alone in your feelings." Get used to (genuinely) sharing that "a lot of moms feel the same way" or "I have heard several moms say this exact thing."  another way to validate is to share personal experience by stating, "I thought that very thing not too long ago..."  This step will become more comfortable with practice.  It is probably the most forgotten step, and the most necessary...never go on to the third step without first camping on this one!  A mom may confide that she doesn't feel like she is making enough milk for her child, and our first response may be to educate (the third and final step).  We may want to dive right in with "if baby is getting enough wet diapers..." if baby is gaining looks health...etc.  By jumping right to educating, the mom is made to feel insignificant and shouts the message that her feelings are NOT valid.  It will kill a conversation and close doors to further counseling.  Take time to validate.
Okay, the step we are all so very good at...the last step in the sequence...
     3. EDUCATE

Here is where we get the opportunity to answer specific questions.  It is not the time to share everything we know about the topic.  We are not trying to overload the mom, but rather simplify her life by giving her specific advice.  Share in a loving-compassionate way the correct, accurate answer.  Once we have identified the real problem and have isolated the concern, we may address it and help the client get over this hurdle.  Also, a relationship has been established and the next time a problem arises, it will be much easier to get to the root of things since the client will feel comfortable sharing with you.  The client will know you really listened and she will feel like a person worthy of your time.  It is amazing the results that can come from being a good listener and by asking the right questions.  Counseling from the heart reaches the heart of the matter.

We also have to keep in mind when talking to adults to use methods that appeal to the adult learner.  The history and principles of teaching adult learners can be found on the web.  I have included a few to peruse at your convenience.

Communication is as much of our job as assessment and intervention; in fact, we may never get to the other aspects of our profession without proper communication.  This may not be a large portion of the IBCLC Exam, but it is a large portion of your vocation.  Practice.  Smile.  Be inviting in your personality.  Love others.  Be yourself. 

Looking forward to hearing about your successes,
Christy Jo Hendricks, IBCLC, Doula

For counseling the grieving mother, please be aware of local resources for your families
As you locate excellent resources, please advise so I can add them to my website under "resources"

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Normal Growth and Development for the Breastfed Infant

As I discuss the "normal" growth and development I have to remind everyone that every child and circumstance must be independently evaluated and guidelines are just that...guides, not concrete walls that determine absolutes...

Although there are facts and figures along with possible complications and interventions that are specifically related to a preemie, I am not going to address the preterm or near-term infant at this time.  This post will relate to full-term, healthy, breastfed infants.

I have to say one of my pet peeves is the CDC Growth Charts, their development and how they have become the final authority on growth for so many medical professionals.  In fact, many doctors use the charts to provide "scripted counsel" and inevitably recommend or require a baby be supplemented with formula. I am curious to know how many doctors or other professionals actually consider how the Growth Charts were developed and the margin of error that accompanies this type of data comparison.  The empirical data (data charted by experience or observation) and "convenient" smooth pattern created from the charted data vary extensively.

To paraphrase how the research was conducted, babies were measured at different increments and the empirical data was charted. Next, babies (not necessarily the same babies) were charted at different ages, points began forming a pattern, and that pattern clearly signified that over time, babies gain weight (not a difficult hypothesis to have to prove).  The problem I have with the charts is the smooth pattern that the researchers defined based on the empirical data...the points do NOT fall symmetrically on the curve, but vary greatly.  Knowing this, a doctor may inform a parent that their child is below weight, but when looking at the original data, the subject used to create the chart may not have fallen on the smooth curve either!

I really cannot do the report justice, but I implore everyone who works with infants and children to become familiar with the CDC Growth Charts Methods of Development.  It is astonishing to know how many people believe these weights and measurements are absolutes and not guides.

One step that I applaud is the transfer of confidence in the CDC Growth Chart to the WHO Growth Charts.  At least this data compares breastfed infants' growth patterns and establishes the child being breastfed as the baseline for a "normal" growth pattern.  WHO Growth Charts should be available for a base comparison, but more importantly, like previously mentioned, individual history and observation is more important.

Recently, I spoke to a mom that was experiencing regular "check-ups" for her breastfed infant because he was considered to be at "high risk."  The mom felt that her breastmilk was not adequate since the pediatrician questioned her son's weight gain and insisted on regular monitoring.  My frustration was compounded by the mom's emotional state.  She felt inadequate, scared, vulnerable, guilty--all emotions I try to alleviate in parents.

I asked her some basic questions.  Was your infant born early?  How much did he weigh at birth? How is breastfeeding going?  How many wet/soiled diapers in 24 hours?  How much did his dad weigh?  Describe his dad's stature.  How much weight has he gained?...etc.  The answers I received verified my hypothesis...the doctor had not taken a and mom were both small in was gaining weight regularly, having plenty of output and was reaching milestones.  I also observed a feed and milk transfer.   

After counseling the parents and suggesting they speak to their pediatrician about their concerns and requesting "medical reasons why the baby needs supplementation" I was assured that the mom had been empowered and restored to her confident self.

Although no child has the same growth pattern, healthy babies do gain weight and grow.  I do not want to give the impression that failure to gain weight or thrive is in any way acceptable.  Monitoring the slow weight gain is also crucial.  Follow up is mandatory.

What patterns are common in most infants?  Here I will be brief, since these facts and figures can be memorized and retained for future use.  Newborns often loose weight after delivery.  I don't like the phrase "7-10% is acceptable"  it may or may not the baby gaining weight now?  Is the baby alert and responsive?  We must be careful to not make blanket statements.  Babies do typically lose weight due to many circumstances following delivery...did the baby have a bowel movement?  Were meds and fluids administered during labor?  Has baby eaten?  Was the baby weighed on the same scale under the same circumstances...these scenarios allow for variation in weight.  We must remember that  babies are born "full".  they have a direct line to the all-you-can-eat buffet.  They are born with extra fat stores to help them during the transition from colostrum to mature milk, and allowing them time to stimulate the breast and cause Lactogenesis II to occur.  Babies are not born starving and in need of an immediate meal.  So, with that being said, panic should not set in when an infant displays some initial weight loss.

I created a reference chart for the common 10% weight loss and kilogram conversion from pounds.  Feel free to download a reference copy from my website under "Resources".

Other noted patterns of the breastfed infant include:

  • Babies regain their birth weight by 10-14 days
  • Birth to 1 month weight gain is .5 to 1 oz. per day
  • 2-6 month weight gain is 3-5 oz. per week
  • Birth weight typically doubles by 4-6 months and triples by a year
  • Head circumference increases by 3 inches in a year
  • Birth to 6 mo. infants gain about 1 in. each month
  • 6-12 months infants gain 1/2 inch each month
  • Infant's length increases by 50% at 1 year
Remember each baby is unique and should not be compared to other babies...the best comparison is made between the same baby the previous time you observed him.

Also, if you are sitting for the exam this year, dedicate some personal time studying age groups and milestones in regard to child development.  My students were surprised at how many of the IBLCE questions related to age group and photo recognition based on "typical" growth in the newborn.