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April 21, 2021

IU Health North Lactation Consultant Helps Mothers Through Their Breastfeeding Journey

IU Health North Hospital

IU Health North Lactation Consultant Helps Mothers Through Their Breastfeeding Journey

After experiencing personal struggles with breastfeeding, Martha Ollikainen, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) lactation consultant at IU Health North Hospital, devotes her time to helping mothers enjoy the breastfeeding experience with their baby.

By Caleigh Ramey, Communications Intern, IU Health Indianapolis Suburban Region, cramey4@IUHealth.org

Martha Ollikainen, NICU lactation consultant at IU Health North Hospital, began her passion for breastfeeding over 30 years ago. After experiencing personal struggles with breastfeeding, she says she wanted to devote her time to help mothers enjoy the experience with their baby.

Ollikainen began her career as a NICU nurse before becoming a lactation consultant. She was instrumental at the beginning of a lactation consulting program at a nearby hospital. Since then, she has been at IU Health for 13 years, first working in the postpartum unit, and now full-time assisting the NICU with lactation.

“I was a NICU nurse at first, but I really struggled with breastfeeding from the very beginning with my first child down to my last,” Ollikainen said. “I had an abscess in my breasts and going through those experiences with my children really opened my eyes to the importance of breastfeeding. I kept thinking about what those struggling first-time mothers were feeling and how I wanted to help them.”

Ollikainen spends her time helping mothers understand breastfeeding as well as helping them with the process.

“My co-worker Kristi Tronc and I work with these mothers before they come into the hospital to guide them. We see every breastfeeding mother every day to help with feedings and anything they need. We also spend a lot of our time trying our best to help moms understand breastfeeding and the best way to do it not only for the baby but so they can enjoy the experience too.”

Paula Shaner, clinical operations manager of the NICU, says the lactation consultants play a vital role in the success of the NICU.

“I think having our lactation consultants in the NICU has been amazing,” Shaner said. “They work tirelessly to help mothers through running support groups and helping other struggling mothers connect and not feel alone. They guide them and get very close with the moms to make sure things are going as best as they can. The mothers get very comfortable with them which is beneficial for the entire breastfeeding experience. We are successful in the NICU because of the work of our lactation consultants. Our families love them constantly being there for support.”

And the breastfeeding benefits aren’t only for the child, but for the mother as well.

“It is the best thing for the baby and the mother. The milk is filled with great nutrients to help the baby grow and be healthy. Many studies show that women who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. As for the child, they are better at fighting infections and diseases. More than anything it’s the time that a mother and her baby get to share and it’s such a precious moment. The experience is a life-changing one.”

Ollikainen says she wants mothers in the NICU to feel supported and that is what she strives to achieve every day.

“The mothers in the NICU are special because they are constantly worried about their child’s health and personally are exhausted,” she continued. “They need a lot of love and help during this process because they have no control over anything happening, so breastfeeding is the one thing they can do for their baby that no one else can. We try to make being in the NICU the best possible experience for the babies as well as the mothers, and supporting their breastfeeding journey is one way we do that.”

The first week of August was World Breastfeeding Week and IU Health North’s lactation consultants celebrated with a variety of activities for the staff along with gifts for their patients.

“It’s a great week to celebrate breastfeeding all over the world,” shared Ollikainen. “We have come a long way with raising awareness of breastfeeding and taking steps towards it no longer being a taboo topic. In the NICU, we had t-shirts for the babies and little goodies bags for the mothers to show our support towards them and their commitment to breastfeeding. For our staff, we played breastfeeding trivia games with milk chocolate prizes.”

For Ollikainen, it’s more than just a job. She says this work has become a ministry to serve others.

“I work with wonderful people here in the NICU,” she said. “We are a part of a big family and everyone is very supportive and grateful for us which I appreciate. I started my career as a NICU nurse and now 40 years later I am back working in the NICU helping with lactation and it’s a blessing. I decided a couple of years ago that doing lactation consulting would be my ministry and every day I would serve through these mothers and babies. I know I will end my career doing what I love to do which is helping mothers and being around the babies that I love.”

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