Written by: Amber McCann, IBCLC, Owner of Nourish Breastfeeding Support
I had the privilege of meeting Leigh Anne O’Connor at a conference last spring. The enthusiasm and confidence that drew me to her translates into the work she does with mothers and babies in Manhattan. We are honored, at Lactation Matters, to be able to share with you about the work Leigh Anne is doing.
Leigh Ann O’Connor lives in Manhattan, with her husband and their three children. She has spent more than 9 years as an IBCLC lecturing for professional organizations, setting up Corporate Lactation programs, teaching breastfeeding classes, leading support groups and seeing private clients all over New York City. You might have seen her on Bravo’s Pregnant in Heels, The Doctors and TLC’s Bringing Home Baby as an expert and advocate for breastfeeding. She has also been a Guest Lecturer at Columbia University Teachers College.
How did you come to be an IBCLC?
After struggling for a few days with breastfeeding, I fell in love with it. It was amazing watching my daughter, Phoebe, grow so big, happy and healthy – all at my breast.
My sister-in-law encouraged me to attend a La Leche League (LLL) Meeting, where I felt right at home. I became a leader with the organization and since many of the Leaders whom I respected were also IBCLCs, they encouraged me to work toward that goal.
What does a typical week of working with mothers look like for you?
I take my two younger children to school every morning and then I usually head off to see mothers and babies in their homes. If you were with me, you would see me on my phone answering questions and cheerleading a mom. In the park, I have been known to do quick consults and to touch my breasts as I demonstrate how to hand express over the phone. I pepper the time at home with e-mails and phone calls to clients in between dinner and homework with the kids.
In addition to leading LLL Meetings (including a Toddler meeting that I adore), I also have a support group/clinic twice a month. This is a great way for me to follow up with clients and to help mothers. The beauty of it is the mother-to-mother support. They really get into supporting each other and encouraging each other. They talk parenting philosophy. I answer more technical questions, but it is really about them finding their voices and owning their mothering.
What are your biggest challenges of working in Manhattan?
One of the biggest challenges is the weather. When it is nice, Manhattan is a pleasure. Toting around my scale can be tough. When I have my scale and my bag and I have to go to a fifth or sixth floor walk-up apartment, that is challenging. When there is rain or snow, it is hard to carry my supplies and an umbrella. My scale is on a cart with wheels, which I pull along behind me, but in snow it is a real drag. Also, toting my supplies up and down the stairs of the subway or on the bus is tiresome. Sometimes I spring for a taxi, but it really gets costly. I love when a client is nearby and I can walk to her home on a nice sunny day.
Also, we live in a highly competitive atmosphere. Many women are returning to work early or they are trying to create an idyllic life and that just does not mesh with young baby feeding. There is a big environment of sleep training and heavy scheduling. Often, I am helping a mother to learn to trust her instincts, to trust her baby and to not try to fit her round baby into a square hole.
What advice would you offer to other private practice IBCLCs?
I had one intern ask me, “How did you know you really want to be a Lactation Consultant?” I laughed because I live and breathe breastfeeding. I can always turn a cocktail party conversation into a breastfeeding conversation. I relate most of life back to breastfeeding. I think that the start is having a passion for breastfeeding, babies and families. You study hard and volunteer. Put yourself into the breastfeeding world. I like mother-to-mother support meetings because they help me know what is normal. A Private Practice Lactation Consultant often sees only problematic breastfeeding and her ideas about breastfeeding can become skewed, so, being in the company of normal is so important. I think that is why I love my Toddler Meeting so much. Breastfeeding a toddler is normal.
Also, if possible, shadow as many different IBCLC’s as possible. We are all a bit different but we all have something to teach.
I think I learned the most from nursing my three children – two of whom were tongue-tied! And, I continue to learn from every mother I see.