You wouldn't know it by looking at her but, according to her mother, Sandra Lobaina was a biter.
“I bit her," said Lobaina, smiling, when asked to explain why her mother didn't breastfeed her. "After that, she stopped. Even though I was a few days old, and I didn’t have teeth. But she was in pain, wasn’t in the correct position. And there wasn’t anyone there to come in and help her.”
Now Lobaina works as a licensed midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to make sure other mothers have the support they need to breastfeed.
Though not all women are able to breastfeed due to complications, a growing number of health care providers and activists that support the practice are contributing to a change in mentality, she says.
Along with the Miami-Dade Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program, Lobaina was one of the organizers of a recent event in which South Florida mothers joined over 21,000 women in communities around the world to breastfeed publicly during World Breastfeeding Week.
Ninety-one local moms gathered Aug. 4 in Tropical Park in Miami to participate in "The Big Latch On." They nursed their babies under a tent in the smothering heat, while hundreds of others offered support and marched during the annual Miami-Dade Breastfeeding Awareness Walk.
A CHANGE IN EDUCATION
Lobaina says there are many factors that contribute to a gap in breastfeeding education. For her grandmother over 50 years ago, it was “misleading marketing” from formula companies like Carnation Good Start.
She says the wording can be confusing to a mother who wants to do the best she can for her baby.
Lobaina's grandmother came from a family of 14 from the mountains of Puerto Rico, where everyone was breastfed. But in 1962, when her grandmother gave birth in New York, she saw posters at the hospital promoting Carnation Good Start Formula over breast milk.
Lobaina said her grandmother thought her own breast milk was inadequate.
“The doctors basically would say, 'here’s your pill to dry up your breastmilk, and here’s your bag of Carnation Good Start,'” Lobaina said.
A generation later, Lobaina's mother tried, and failed to breastfeed her.
So when it came to Lobaina's own pregnancy, she felt unprepared. Even though she knew the benefits of breastfeeding, she struggled.
“It was kind of difficult for me to have the support,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about positioning or how to latch the baby on, how to troubleshoot if I had pain.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends moms breastfeed for at least a year. The World Health Organization recommends at least two years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls breastfeeding "a key strategy to improve public health" and issued this week a report card tracking the country's progress on it.
But last spring, during the World Health Assembly in Geneva, the Trump administration opposed an international resolution that encouraged breastfeeding over formula. Eventually, the U.S. delegation backed a revised version of the resolution when Russia supported it.
"Evidence-based research shows it's beneficial not only for baby but for mom as well," Lobaina said. "It's really about letting them know 'breast is best,' because human babies are supposed to be drinking human milk."
Eventually, Lobaina found support with the Miami-Dade WIC Program’s breastfeeding department. She called a helpline that connected directly to peer counselors and lactation consultants.
That inspired her to move forward in her career as a midwife and a licensed lactation consultant.
Now she’s spent 11 years helping women. She offers free childbirth education classes in her midwife center in Hialeah, called My Mom Glow.
MOTHERS TAKE THE INITIATIVE
At Miami's "Big Latch On" event in Tropical Park, Miami-Dade mom Iris Elichme nursed her baby. She said breastfeeding is a new experience for her family.
“My family, they are more into formula,” Elichme said. “And I understand it’s quick and easy, but I also wanted what’s healthy for my child.”
Other moms at “The Big Latch On” also said their families steered them towards formula.
Broward resident Tess Buchanan said she was one of the first women in her family to nurse.
“I had my 13-year-old, and a 6-year-old, and I wasn’t really able to breastfeed with them. The first I was way too young, the second one I was under so much stress, I didn’t breastfeed,” Buchanan said.
When her third baby came along, she was determined to give her baby breast milk.
“I didn’t even want to give her a bottle. So five months and we’re going strong,” she said.
But other moms, like Denise Castillo, grew up around families where nursing was normal. She said she knew early-on how to troubleshoot and where to search for help.
“My sister has four kids, she has breastfed. I’ve been breastfeeding my daughter for 19 months now - exclusively,” she said.
Since 2015, a growing number of South Florida hospitals have also become “baby-friendly,” an official designation from the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that means that hospitals will protect, promote and support breastfeeding over formula.