CINCINNATI – Forget about how well she'll sleep at night, what color his eyes will be or whether she'll be fussy or content. In the first hours and days after a baby is born, many moms who choose to nurse them have one all-consuming concern: is my baby eating enough?
Breastfeeding can be surprisingly difficult for first-time and even repeat moms, whose little ones can have trouble latching correctly or staying awake long enough to get a square meal. On the other end of the relationship, mom might be blistered or fretting over milk production.
The lifeline for moms having trouble nursing is the lactation consultant, who is usually a nurse with specialized training to instruct and re-assure anxious parents.
But nurses aren't the only ones who can fill that crucial role thanks to bachelor's and masters programs in maternal and child health at Union Institute & University in Cincinnati. The programs 's bachelor's and master's programs in maternal child health, with a concentration in lactation consulting.
The program is one of a handful in the country and the only known one in the Midwest that offers college and grad school degrees in lactation compared to the more conventional path of earning non-degree certification.
Union, which primarily offers online courses, recognized the niche for students who want both a college degree and the practical skills associated with a lactation concentration.
"If you have a degree compared to another job candidate, your bachelor's in science will stand out," said Brooke Bolton, program advisor. "Plus, you're not just coming for the certification. A college degree is good for the long term."
The financial payoff is substantial, with lactation consultants earning an average $26.49 an hour – nearly four times the minimum wage – according to payscale.com .
Graduates of Union's program are working as freelance consultants, at health clinics and hospitals.
Certification in lactation consultant for nurses can be as minimal as a three-credit course offered at Union for those who are content with that training. An intermediate step between that and a college degree is International Board Certified Lactation Consultant certification.
But the whole enchilada of a bachelor's of science includes general education courses like English and an array of core courses like the politics of breastfeeding and folklore of nursing.
Bolton said many Union students transfer there with associate's degrees or other college credits that apply to the degree.
A master's degree involves another 36 credit hours.
Elizabeth Rowe is a true believer in the cause of breast feeding and plans to use her new bachelor's degree to help spread the word at Butler County WIC, where she works with new moms as a peer helper. "I found my passion was breast feeding," she said, explaining why she chose the lactation concentration.
Rowe is a mother of five children, including Janiyah, 5 months, who tagged along to talk to a reporter and comes to work with mom daily.
Rowe talks with mothers with children as young as three days old about the merits of breast feeding, which include fewer incidences of ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia and other infections, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics . For moms, it means not having to pay for expensive formula, burning more calories to return to pre-pregnancy weight more quickly and fewer incidences of ovarian and breast cancer.
She learned to ask moms an open-ended question about breast-feeding versus formula feeding, to affirm whatever feelings they're having and then educate them on what breastfeeding entails.
Moms who choose nursing at Butler County WIC have access to a greater allotment of other food for their families since the agency doesn't have to spend scarce money on formula.
Rowe complements her education with hands-on experience nursing five children of different temperaments and health at birth. She was a teen mother who was pressured to stop nursing earlier than she wanted and, most recently, a mother of a baby who was five weeks premature – Janiyah, who is now a healthy, plump five-month-old who is quick to smile and take a snooze in the arms of a woman she just met.
Nationally, 76.5 percent of mothers tried breastfeeding in 2013, according to a Centers for Disease Control report .
Ohio (65.4 percent), Kentucky (52.6 percent) and Indiana (63.6 percent) all have lower rates of breastfeeding than the national average, a trend that Bolton and Rowe hope to reverse.
"Some moms have heard nightmare stories about breastfeeding problems," Rowe said. "We want to make sure it's not their nightmare."