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Fort Belvoir corpsman comes through for moms

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Talena Epling proudly serves in her role as a Fort Belvoir Community Hospital board-certified lactation consultant, a rarity among enlisted service members. (Department of Defense photos by Reese Brown) Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Talena Epling proudly serves in her role as a Fort Belvoir Community Hospital board-certified lactation consultant, a rarity among enlisted service members. (Department of Defense photos by Reese Brown)

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Whether she’s giving breast-feeding advice or lending a shoulder to cry on, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Talena Epling goes above and beyond as a lactation consultant, making sure moms and their babies feel comfortable. As one of the only enlisted service members to be an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Epling stays busy.

“Being a lactation consultant helps motivate and empower moms with the resources and information they need to be successful with breast-feeding,” said Epling, a newborn clinic corpsman at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Northern Virginia. “We always make sure the parents know why babies should be fed at least eight times in a 24-hour period, what a good ‘latch’ should look like, and address any other questions or concerns they may have.”

The international board certification, approval by the only credentialing body for lactation consultants, shows a provider is specialized in clinical management of breast-feeding. They can serve patients for a variety of needs before and after a baby is born.

During pregnancy, breast-feeding counseling can help parents learn about nursing. If mothers-to-be have had trouble breast-feeding in the past, or have a history of breast surgery, or are expecting more than one baby, these specialists can provide information to address their concerns. They also provide educational resources to help parents succeed at home.

“Breast-feeding is really great for moms and their babies,” said Epling. “It’s good for bonding, and great for nutrients. It helps reduce chances of infection for the first six months as antibodies are passed from the mother to the baby.”

For the first six months of pregnancy, and possibly longer, natural passive immunities are passed from mother to the baby, said Epling. Once the baby is born, lactation consultants can identify the cause of a mother’s problems with breast-feeding or milk production. Epling, who usually sees patients when they return for the baby’s wellness checkup, said the most common issue she helps moms with is latching – how the baby fastens onto the breast while breast-feeding.

“A lot of new moms don’t really know they have breast-feeding issues until they get home,” said Epling, adding that many women don’t realize breast-feeding shouldn’t hurt if the baby latches properly.

If a baby is breast-feeding but not gaining weight, lactation consultants look into the health of mother and baby to determine the problem and make suggestions on how to correct it. These experts can also provide tools to improve breast-feeding education and the overall experience – and sometimes a shoulder to lean on.

“There are aspects that I didn’t even know as a parent until I started working toward my certification,” said Epling, such as which medications shouldn’t be taken and which can be passed on through breastmilk. Research also shows the benefits of skin-to-skin contact that helps with breastmilk supply and bonding, she said.

Requirements to be a certified lactation consultant include 500 hours of clinical experience and 90 educational hours, and passing a board exam. Certification is rare among enlisted service members due to the time commitment, said Epling, who is studying to be a registered nurse. Getting certified can be difficult for service members who are not already in the maternal, infant, or child health care field due to the time commitment to fulfill requirements, she said. However, a background in nursing can help as many of the requirements overlap.

The job sometimes requires more than breast-feeding advice, said Epling, who always has a box of tissues ready. Whether because of stress, hormones, or any concerns they have, mothers often come in tears. But after showing them what to do and addressing their questions, Epling sees them leave with smiles, she said.

“It can be an emotional and exhausting time for new parents, and it’s important to take care of them to the best of our ability,” said Epling. “The best part of my job is seeing the babies thrive and the moms happy long after they’ve left the hospital, and knowing that they’re doing well.”

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