Maria Briseño is a Breastfeed Chicago board member with an extensive background in community health and lactation support. Currently, Maria is a Preventive Care Navigator for the Indiana Breast and Cervical Cancer Program. Previously she worked as a Lactation Counselor for the Health Consortium of Illinois’ Healthy Start Program. She is a La Leche League International Breastfeeding Peer Counselor and Program Administrator, and has training as a Parent Educator and a doula. Maria is bilingual in Spanish and English and she serves on the Hispanic Advisory Council for the March of Dimes and on The Chicago Region Breastfeeding Task Force Peer Counselor committee as their secretary. She is married and the proud mother of three breastfed sons.
We asked Maria to share her experiences as a breastfeeding mom and community health worker with us. Her breastfeeding story is full of relatable moments. We are excited to share Maria’s story with ten breastfeeding truths below, followed by related evidence-based research to help you reach your breastfeeding goals.
Maria’s Truth #1: Sometimes, our babies teach us about the importance of breastfeeding.
Maria Briseño was born in Mexico and raised on Chicago’s Southeast Side. She had her first child while she was a teen mom in high school. Maria’s world changed when her son Emmanuel was born in 1995. “He was truly like a sun in my life: he opened my eyes to a beautiful sight and a bright journey,” she remembers.
Emmanuel was born via cesarean section, and Maria struggled with breastfeeding. “It broke my heart that I was not able to nurse him, but I was determined to give him the best and that was breast milk, so I pumped.” Emmanuel also had a common medical condition called newborn jaundice, a common condition that occurs when babies have too much of a pigment called bilirubin in their blood. “I felt that it was important for my son to receive my milk since it brought his bilirubin levels back to normal,” Maria remembers. “The pediatrician told me my milk did that. As a teen mom I didn’t understand jaundice or bilirubin, but he was healthy because of my milk. I knew then it was gold,” she says.
Maria’s doctor was correct: frequent breastfeeding reduces bilirubin levels to treat newborn jaundice. Jaundice in newborns is common–if you have a newborn and want to be sure that your healthcare provider supports your goals to breastfeed while treating jaundice, print out a copy of The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine jaundice protocol and share it with your baby’s doctor.
If you’re reading this while pregnant and want ideas on how to successfully breastfeed, check out our helpful article: Before You Breastfeed: Ten Steps to a Great Start. The right support and education can help you to reach your breastfeeding goals!
Maria’s Truth #2: Skin-to-skin and responsive feeding practices optimize your breastfeeding relationship.
“Since we didn’t experience breastfeeding at the breast, I did skin-to-skin with Emmanuel and he loved it,” Maria said. At the time Maria didn’t know why skin-to-skin was important, but she knew Emmanuel enjoyed hearing her voice, her heartbeat, and the closeness of having Maria near him.
Maria’s gut feeling was exactly right! Skin-to-skin and kangaroo care are amazing tools to have in your new parent toolbox. Research shows that skin-to-skin and kangaroo care encourage your baby to breastfeed and help your baby to regulate their heart rate, blood sugar, and body temperature, all while calming your baby. This closeness with your baby can also help you to feel more calm and is shown to reduce the likelihood of postpartum mood disorders.
Maria remembers holding Emmanuel close for bottle feeding, “which was very important for me since we didn’t breastfeed at the breast,” she said. “I took this time to talk to him, admire his face and learn how much he was eating, which allowed me to learn not to force-feed him and follow his pace.” Their pumping journey lasted for a year.
This kind of responsive feeding that Maria described is often called paced feeding and is a specific way of feeding your baby that helps prevent overfeeding. Paced feeding allows your baby to listen to their own hunger and satiation cues when drinking breast milk from a bottle.
Maria’s Truth #3: Even health professionals have lots to learn about breastfeeding!
Maria was trained as a La Leche League International peer counselor in 1999. “The Chicago Family Health Center where I worked needed a peer counselor for the clinic and they sent me to training as I was the only one working there who had breastfeeding experience.” Maria’s second child, Pedro, was born in 2002, three years after Maria was trained by La Leche League International. “While pregnant, I was excited because this time I wanted to experience breastfeeding at the breast. I just didn’t know how to start!” she says. “This was funny because I was a breastfeeding peer counselor, and I helped many mothers latch their newborn babies, but I didn’t know how with my own!” Maria laughs.
Many breastfeeding parents–even people who work in healthcare, like Maria–benefit from guidance and support when learning how to breastfeed! Here at Breastfeed Chicago, we recommend taking a breastfeeding class with a partner before the birth of your baby. Many classes are offered in hospitals and stand-alone parenting support centers. It’s also a great idea to develop a relationship with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (also called IBCLCs) before or right after birth, should you encounter difficulties with breastfeeding and need support.
Maria’s Truth #4: Early breastfeeding initiation leads to greater breastfeeding success long-term.
Pedro was also born via cesarean section because he wasn’t receiving enough oxygen during the birthing process. Maria told her obstetrician before his birth that she wanted to breastfeed as soon as possible after he was born, because she knew that this would increase their likelihood of breastfeeding success. “The nurses brought my baby to the room while I was still recovering and stayed with me as I latched Pedro and he nursed,” Maria says. “I was happy because we were nursing and I got to listen to my baby suck and swallow,” she remembers.
Once again, Maria’s experience teaches us a lot about breastfeeding! Early initiation of breastfeeding leads to higher breastfeeding rates for longer time frames. You can learn about the importance of breastfeeding during the first hour in this video.
Want to learn more about early breastfeeding initiation? The importance of breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth is discussed at length here and here .
Maria’s Truth #5: Workplace support makes breastfeeding so much easier.
When Pedro was a baby, Maria’s husband (also named Pedro) was hospitalized, and Maria worked to support their family financially. She was able to be home a lot with her baby Pedro for his first seven months because her family-friendly employer allowed her to work on a very part-time basis. “My boss would call to check if I needed anything to help me and my family out. She asked me if I was able to come to help her two times a week for a couple of hours to do some work–and said I could bring the baby to work with me,” Maria says. It was easy to work with Pedro in a carrier when Maria was in the office. “I enjoyed the experience nursing him as I was working or talking to my director,” Maria recalls.
Employer support of breastfeeding like Maria received makes a huge difference in breastfeeding duration! It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that when working parents have access to pumping breaks, a lactation room, and support from coworkers and supervisors, they breastfeed longer! And supporting parents who breastfeed is beneficial to employers, too. According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, corporate lactation programs foster as much as a 28% decrease in employee absenteeism and a 36% reduction in sick child health care claims made by employees.
The United States Centers for Disease Control published a guide called “Support for Breastfeeding in the Workplace” that is useful to both lactating women and employers.
Maria’s Truth #6: You can still breastfeed if you don’t respond to a breast pump!
Eventually, Maria increased her hours at work while remaining part-time and stopped bringing Pedro to work with her. She planned to pump at work and knew she should schedule pumping breaks around his feedings. “I discovered was that I was not able to pump for him. I bought a pump, borrowed one from a friend, and even rented a hospital grade pump–NOTHING! At this time, I was disappointed and afraid: what was my baby going to eat?” Maria recalls.
Maria called her La Leche League International leader, who reminded her that skin to skin is more effective than plastic to skin and said Maria should try hand expressing or have Pedro come visit her at work to nurse. She also told Maria to check with Pedro’s pediatrician to be sure he was gaining weight. The visit to the pediatrician went well! Pedro was on target but the doctor was concerned that he wasn’t eating solids. “I told him we were trying solids, but he wasn’t interested, so I was waiting for when he was ready. He was finally ready to start solids at ten months old,” Maria says.
We know that working and breastfeeding can be challenging to balance! Maybe, like Maria, you don’t respond to a pump. Maybe your baby doesn’t like bottles, or you have to travel for work and you’re not sure how to bring breast milk through airport security. Challenges like these are exactly why we created our “Ultimate Back-to-Work Guide” with possible solutions to problems you encounter when working and breastfeeding.
Maria’s Truth #7: The breastfeeding relationship you have with each child is different. Breastfeeding can be easier the second or third time around!
Maria’s third child Daniel was born in 2004 and was a bit of a surprise. Maria experienced bleeding during the first trimester of her pregnancy, but was happy when, during her last ultrasound, her healthcare providers told her that he was strong and holding on! Maria knew from her previous pumping and nursing experiences that the journey with each child is different, but she was still pleasantly surprised with the ease of her third breastfeeding experience. “Daniel nursed, took bottles, sippy cups, and solids like a champ. He nursed from birth to three years old!” Maria said.
Maria’s varied experiences pumping and breastfeeding inspired her to increase her professional capacity as a lactation support worker. She became involved in health, breastfeeding, and parenting support because the worlds so often connect. A year after Daniel was born, Maria was working at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) as a breastfeeding peer counselor and she decided it was time to become a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) in 2005. She was given a scholarship through Chicago Region Breastfeeding Task Force to pursue her CLC. Maria now works as a Preventive Care Navigator as part of the Indiana Breast and Cervical Cancer Program at the same health center.
If you had a hard time breastfeeding your first child but you’re hoping for a better experience with your second (or third), we recommend a few resources:
This article explains the science behind why breastfeeding is often easier the second (or third, or fourth…) time around. Research by Camila dos Santos found that mammary glands actually “remember” how to make milk for subsequent children!
Stephanie Casemore wrote a very helpful book called “Breastfeeding, Take Two: Successful Breastfeeding the Second Time Around”.
Maria’s Truth #8: Every community deserves access to quality healthcare and breastfeeding support
Maria moved with her family to Merrillville, Indiana in 2004 when her youngest son was nine months old, but she commutes back to the Southeast Side each day to work at the Chicago Family Health Center’s South Chicago location to work as health navigator and provide breastfeeding support. “It’s my community and my home, so I couldn’t leave it,” Maria said.
“The director said she thought of me for the new health navigator role because ‘the organization and the community remember you and love you’, and I think it helps to have trust when encouraging others to get health screenings,” she said. “I’m now asking women who I once helped to breastfeed if they’ve had their recommended clinical breast exam or pap smear screening,” Maria says.
Community health and peer counseling programs exist to increase access to healthcare in under-served communities. Maria sees a real need for increased breastfeeding support in under-served racial and ethnic communities throughout Indiana and Illinois. “More Spanish-language breastfeeding resources are needed and we need more Spanish breastfeeding support throughout the state,” Maria says. “Language is definitely a barrier,” she continues.
The good news is that Latina women have the highest rates of breastfeeding initiation and continuation among all women in the United States! There are some breastfeeding health disparities among Latina mothers and children that can be improved. According to research by Chapman and Pérez-Escamilla, Latina mothers are not presently meeting Healthy People 2020 objectives for breastfeeding continuation and are less likely to breastfeed exclusively. Latina women are slightly more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to provide formula supplementation at as early as two days of life. Their research also found that that Latina women are more likely to introduce solid foods before four months of age and have higher rates of restrictive feeding practices. Latinas are not a homogenous group, so differences in breastfeeding rates exist between different Latina groups (for example, breastfeeding rates are significantly higher for Mexican-American women than for Puerto Rican women). This leaves room for education and support among Latina communities across Chicagoland. “Often there is not much breastfeeding support or communication for people of color and people from other cultures,” Maria says.
Maria’s Truth #9: New parents need more support and should be encouraged by their communities to meet their breastfeeding goals.
“After women become mothers, life outside doesn’t change, but everything around them does. Mothers are expected to transition fast to this new reality,” Maria says. She has seen new moms get overwhelmed trying to follow someone else’s successful breastfeeding journey, and she knows that comparison is the thief of joy. “I didn’t nurse at the breast with my first son and the experience left me thinking I was stupid or inadequate,” she says. Now she knows how important it is to allow each breastfeeding parent to set their own goals and receive support to reach them. “I feel that mothers need time, someone to listen, and support to help them with whatever they need,” Maria says.
Research by Grummer-Strawn et. al. confirms what Maria and many other parents already know: support is a crucial aspect of initiating and continuing breastfeed practices! New parents who receive personalized support from a breastfeeding peer counselor, lactation consultant, or healthcare provider are more likely to breastfeed. The same research also confirms that more time spent with a lactation support person will increase the likelihood of breastfeeding success.
Maria’s Truth #10: Educating our spouses and children can help to normalize breastfeeding for the next generation.
“Not all Latinas breastfeed,” Maria reminds us. Her husband came from a family that did not. “His mother didn’t nurse for her own reasons, and it was hard for my husband to understand why I would nurse in public and continue to nurse past a year,” Maria says. He learned from Maria how and why breastfeeding was great for mom and baby’s health, and he saw that his coworkers’ wives also breastfed.
Maria’s three sons are no strangers to breastfeeding education now. “I’m proud that they know a lot about breastfeeding and can teach it to their peers,” Maria says. Her sons have accompanied Maria to breastfeeding classes and events as well. “They know breasts are made for nurturing young and they see breasts the ways other might see a bottle. They don’t feel awkward when they encounter a breastfeeding mother,” she says.
Normalizing breastfeeding for children and adults can be as simple as nursing around them. Exposure makes a big difference! One study found that teenage girls who were breastfed as babies were more likely to plan to breastfeed (83% vs. 35%), as were girls with exposure to breastfeeding (62% vs. 45%). Teens exposed to breastfeeding were more likely to see breastfeeding as beneficial to both the mother (45% vs. 24%) and the infant (86% vs. 60%) and to be interested in breastfeeding education (31% vs. 17%).
If you need a few ideas on how to talk to your kids about breastfeeding, check out this resource from The Leaky Boob. Public health agencies in Marion County, Indiana and Ontario, Canada have both created secondary education curricula all about breastfeeding and its benefits that you can download for more activities and ideas.