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12 Aug

On the Frontlines: Helping New Mothers Navigate COVID-19

Cayitlyn-Weiland-Headshot

As a lactation consultant, Caytlyn Weiland plays a critical role during an emotional experience for new mothers. Now due to COVID-19, her role has taken on additional importance and stress.

From the start of the pandemic, pregnant women and new mothers have been greatly impacted by the lack of information about the virus and its spread. Working in a Philadelphia-area health system, Weiland, a student in Kent State’s online Master of Public Health (MPH) program, is among the healthcare professionals who are responsible for making sure those women have the information they need for their health and their infant health.

“It's tough because there's the CDC, there's the American Academy of Pediatrics, there's the World Health Organization,” said Weiland. “They all take different stances.”

At the beginning of the crisis, her healthcare system followed the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: A mother who tested positive for COVID-19 needed to quarantine themselves from their newborn for two weeks after giving birth.

“I understand where it was coming from, but just in my role trying to support infant-mother attachment and breastfeeding, having moms and their babies separated at birth was probably the hardest thing for me to have to be a part of,” Weiland said.

To follow those CDC guidelines, Weiland needed to reexamine her role and find the best way to help new mothers who had tested positive. She still continued to educate parents about the benefits of breastfeeding, while also giving them advice about successful breastfeeding methods when they were separated from their children. Because her position only helps new mothers before they’re discharged from the hospital, she was aware that many mothers were most likely ignoring the CDC’s recommendations once they were back home.

“That was just kind of a challenge in and of itself, because you have moms who are obviously going through this huge emotional job, and that doesn't help the breastfeeding relationship at all,” Weiland said. “I just basically tried to figure out how to help them best in the first couple of days.”

On an international level, WHO recommends no separation if a mother tests positive because the risk of separating a mother and child are too high. More recently, the CDC has updated its guidelines to give new mothers who test positive for COVID-19 more choice in how they want to balance the risks, which allows Weiland to educate them on more effective ways to lower the risk of transmission.

“It’s hard because there was so little information about it, so again, you understand why the recommendation is what it is,” Weiland said. “There's been so little mother-to-child transmissions in the newborn period that the risks involved with separating moms and babies is so much higher than actually contracting this illness.”

Supporting Women and Infant Health

Weiland’s route to becoming a lactation consultant might be a little different than most in her field. She was working at a 911 call center, going to school and breastfeeding after her second child, when she made the decision to make a career change.

“There was just no support, so I was just like, ‘Well, I can't talk badly about something if I'm not willing to make the change,’” Weiland said. “What is it? ‘Be the change you wish to see.’

“So, I went for it.”

She underwent the two-year process to become certified as a lactation consultant. Today she works in direct patient care, but eventually she hopes to move into policy and programmatic work for a public health department or another government organization.

While there is plenty of research about breastfeeding, Weiland said it can be difficult for women to get access to that information. Some groups and federal agencies might promote breastfeeding, but they may not necessarily offer women the support and tools they need.

“We all know the benefit of breastfeeding, but managing and supporting it is just something that isn't widely done,” Weiland said. “There's just a lot more that we need to do to educate parents and employers and health professionals about why we need to support these women and how to do that.”

That is how she landed in Kent State’s online MPH program. Many public health graduate programs offered only a general focus and only in-person classes. Kent State’s online MPH allowed her to not be away from her family or work, and Weiland knew the Social and Behavioral Sciences specialization would focus exactly on what she wanted to learn.

Better Mother and Infant Care

Like many healthcare workers across the country, Weiland and her colleagues have adapted to working in the pandemic after the past several months. While the CDC still recommends that new mothers who have tested positive for COVID-19 quarantine themselves, those guidelines have been relaxed to give healthcare workers like Weiland more leeway to discuss different options and ways to mitigate risks.

During the pandemic, Weiland’s MPH classes have given her a better understanding of what could be going on in new mothers’ lives and she is better equipped to meet them where they are. That includes understanding how racial inequities in healthcare impact the type of care some women receive.

“Learning about the health disparities I see in my own practice and in the national climate today, I see racial disparities and what happens when women are treated differently for certain reasons,” Weiland said. “And just through my education I’m better able to dissect what’s going on and the root causes.

“One of my first classes was about health disparities, and I just remember thinking, ‘This has everything to do with what I'm seeing every day,’ and that just affirmed for me that I made the right decision in terms of this education path.”

Start Your Journey at Kent State

When you are ready to advance your career, take the first step with our MPH program. At Kent State online, students can choose the focus that suits their professional goals. Understand how environmental factors impact individuals and their actions with the Social and Behavioral Sciences specialization, or gain the needed skills and experience to make a difference in your community with a Health Policy Management specialization.

If you have questions about choosing the right path for you, reach out to an Admissions Advisor today.