Homemade Mother of the Week: Jane O’Connor, Lactation Consultant

This article is the first in a new series, “Homemade Mother of the Week.” If you know a woman who is thoughtfully sharing her passion for the planet,  families or the well-being of others, please nominate her for this special recognition.  Send an email with all the details to maureen@homemademothering.com

When my son was born a year ago, he and I had a tough time figuring out how to breastfeed properly. By the time he was five days old, I was in desperate need of help from a professional lactation consultant. Jane O’Connor came to my rescue, and to this day I am still oh-so grateful.  She provided expert advice and motherly encouragement, and in less than an hour her guidance solved every feeding problem my little guy and I had. She was an inspiration, and I wanted to learn more about what brought her to such a unique and special profession.

Born into a large dairy farming family in rural Wisconsin, Jane gained an appreciation for both hard work and kindness.  Shortly after graduating from nursing school she ventured out on her own, working in Milwaukee and volunteering in Alaska before settling in Chicago. She soon decided that a masters in child development would enhance her nursing degree because she “realized we were taking care of diseases and not children” and she wanted to help more.

While working in a pediatrician’s office, she came to enjoy spending time with new moms and their babies.

“Lactation became my passion,” says Jane. “I stayed at the pediatrician’s office because there were so many moms and babies I could help.”

In her 28 years of pediatric nursing experience, Jane has found that for many moms the first month of breastfeeding can be a challenge.

“I say breastfeeding is a dance – sometimes mom leads and sometimes baby leads.  The first month is all about getting the rhythm down,” she says.

Jane has visited thousands of new moms over the years in the comfort of their own homes. A typical home visit with a lactation consultant occurs at a time when baby is hungry but not ravenous.  The visit includes a physical assessment of the baby, practice of different feeding positions and making sure both mom and baby are comfortable. It is as much about warm encouragement as it is analysis.

“As mothers, we breastfeed to nourish and nurture. Its bonding, comforting, and a great hormonal release for mom. Its nourishing and nurturing,” she says. “These little souls want a nice warm body. They just want to cuddle.”

With this in mid, Jane is sensitive to the moms who want to breastfeed, but whose bodies are not able to produce an adequate milk supply.

“Moms who want to do it and don’t have enough are devastated, but they don’t have to stop completely,” she says. “Moms without enough milk to nourish baby can still breastfeed to nurture. If baby needs more calories, then supplement with what baby needs.  But, don’t give up the nurturing part of breastfeeding just because the nourishing part isn’t there.”

The same mentality can easily apply to working moms who choose to formula feed during business hours.

“Breastfeeding is the best reward for a working mother. Mom can come home and sit and hold her baby and do nothing else. It is wonderful,” she says.

Jane cites this quiet time with baby as one of the best reasons to breastfeed, regardless of whether or not mom is working outside the home.

“You have to sit down to breastfeed your baby, and that is a blessing. It is the only time a new mom can sit down. No need to worry about the messy floor below or dirty chandelier above,” she says.

In the 20 years she has been helping breastfeeding moms, Jane hasn’t witnessed any drastic changes in attitudes about breastfeeding.

“The moms who are adamant about it continue to be adamant about it,” she says. “Women are busy and some of them don’t want to take the time to do it and do it well. Those aren’t usually the moms I see.”

According to Jane, one of the biggest changes she’s witnessed in the past six months is the emergence of a new breastfeeding position called the biological nurturing position.  It is similar to the popular side-lying position, but mom is reclining on her back with baby laying on top.

“If you had told me nine months ago that this would work, I wouldn’t have believed you.  But, it is wonderful for mom – her nipples feel better – and baby seems to get a really good latch,” says Jane.

Jane has worked with a group of lactation consultants, and she recently struck out on her own by forming JOC Lactation Consultants Inc. She hopes to reach a greater number of women in the Chicago area with this new venture.

“I’m quite passionate about it because I have such a good time,” Jane says. “I feel like I’m playing with angels everyday.”

Jane raised four of her own little angels, so I asked her to share one of her family’s favorite homemade recipes. It is originally from originally from “Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home”, but she has made adaptations through the years.

Black Bean Soup

10 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in 1 cup of boiling water.
1 ½ c. chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 (2, if you like it hot) jalapeno chiles, minced, or ¼ tsp cayenne
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/3 c. water.
3 c. undrained diced tomatoes (28-oz can)
4 c. undrained cooked black beans (two 10-oz cans, or three if you like)
¼ c. chopped fresh cilantro
additional water or tomato juice.

Saute the onions, garlic and chile or cayenne in oil for ~5 min, stirring frequently, until the onions are translucent. Add the cumin, 1/3c. water, and the tomatoes. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 5 min. Add the black beans and their liquid, and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.

Drain and chop the softened sun-dried tomatoes. Add them to the soup and cook for 5-10 min. Stir in the cilantro and remove the soup from the heat. Puree half of the soup in a blender or food processor and return it to the pot. If the soup is too thick, add some water or tomato juice. Reheat gently.

Serve with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

Best when reheated a few days later, or make earlier in the week to share at the weekend fall block party.

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