Ana Hernandez feels like the luckiest woman in the world. She has a loving and supportive husband, a delightful 11-year-old son named Aaron, an adorable 1-year-old daughter named Zoe—and Sandra.
Sandra Reynoso is the breastfeeding peer counselor at Ana’s WIC center. And during Ana’s and Zoe’s first year as mother and daughter, Sandra made all the difference.
Determined! “I started going to WIC as soon as I got pregnant. I was very determined to breastfeed her, to give her my own milk.”
But the day Zoe was born, breastfeeding didn’t go the way she expected. “It was very painful,” Ana said. “I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t even sure I would ever be able to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is not usually painful. But Ana’s experience was different.
Breastfeeding support group “Only two days after Zoe was born, I went to the breastfeeding support group. By 8 a.m., I was at my WIC center!”
There Ana met Sandra for the first time. And she asked Sandra for help.
“At the hospital they did help, but not the way Sandra did later. At the hospital the nurse didn’t even come close.”
Sandra was the opposite. “She was comfortable around my breast. I told Sandra, ‘Please help me any way you can!’”
Latching correctly? Sandra explained that the only reason breastfeeding was painful was that her baby wasn’t latching onto Ana’s nipple correctly. Sandra explained that could be easily fixed.
“She showed me three different ways to hold the baby. And I chose the way that was most comfortable for me.”
The moment Sandra helped her, Ana was able to nurse comfortably, with no pain.
Ana is grateful to her husband too. “My husband was there every step of the way. He came to my one-on-one counseling with Sandra. To my support group, to the first class. He had more questions than I did!”
Bonding with Zoe Ana breastfed Zoe for several months. She enjoyed bonding with her baby in this special way. And she was so happy she was able to give her baby valuable breastmilk.
But Ana had an important decision to make, and again, Sandra was there to talk to.
Ana continued to attend Sandra’s weekly WIC breastfeeding support group. During the first month, she came to WIC every week. After that, she came every other week.
“I came to hear people’s points of view, and suggestions,” she said. “To get knowledge from other moms. And to get doubts out of my mind.
Comforting “I really enjoyed the support. Any question you have, every mom has a different point of view. It’s very comforting to know that every mom goes through the same things.
“Sandra and the other moms make you feel welcome. Whatever you want to ask, that’s OK. And every week Sandra takes on a different topic,” Ana said.
But as time passed, Ana began asking herself a question: Should I stop breastfeeding Zoe once I go back to work, or continue breastfeeding?
“Are you sure?” “My breastfeeding goal was three months. I was planning to breastfeed for three months, then stop right before I went back to work. When I went to the support group, Sandra asked me, ‘Are you sure you want to stop?’ But she also said, ‘You should do whatever you want with your body.’ I just loved that. No pressure.”
November came. The baby turned 3 months old. Ana announced that she had changed her mind: she would breastfeed for a full year. Why? “Breastfeeding is one of the best things for Zoe that I’m doing,” she said.
Ana was planning to return to her full-time job with a local pharmacy. How was she going to make this work out?
Sandra’s suggestions First, Sandra gave Ana an electric breast pump and showed her how to operate it. This machine takes milk from the mother’s breast so she can store it in a bottle to use later. Sandra suggested that she pump at night for awhile to build up a supply of breastmilk. And she suggested that Ana talk to her manager ahead of time about her plan to pump breastmilk in a private space at the pharmacy.
Careful planning Then Ana planned her new schedule. She would breastfeed Zoe in the morning, before work. When she left the baby with her husband, she would give him bottles of breastmilk she had pumped the day before. When she was at work–during lunchtime and at break times–she would pump her breastmilk and keep it in the pharmacy’s refrigerator. When she was back home again, she would nurse Zoe as often as Zoe wanted. And the next morning, she would breastfeed Zoe before leaving for work.
Ana was happy to return to her job, and she succeeded at pumping breastmilk there.
A new supervisor! But after a few months, she got a new supervisor. “One day after my break, my manager complained a lot. She said she didn’t want me to take full 20-minute breaks,” Ana said. “But I needed 20 minutes to pump enough!
“I was really upset. As soon as I got off work, I went to see Sandra at WIC.”
Together Ana and Sandra became a strong team.
Sandra showed Ana a WIC pamphlet about pumping and what’s called a “Dear Employer Letter.” This letter explains to a WIC mom’s supervisor the law about a woman pumping her breastmilk at work.
That same day Ana called the human resources department of her company to ask about the company’s policies regarding pumping. Sandra was by her side. The employee Ana spoke to told her that the company’s policy was the same as the law. He also told Ana he would investigate the manager who was giving Ana a hard time.
Ana wanted more information about the law than the “Dear Employer Letter” explains. As Sandra watched, Ana took out her cell phone and looked up the California labor law about pumping breastmilk at work.
“Ana likes to investigate, to research,” Sandra said. “She felt she needed more details. That’s why she went to the website.”
California law According to California law, a company must give a mother a “reasonable amount of time” to pump during her breaks, in addition to lunchtime. If she wants to pump more often than that, she may take additional breaks but the company does not have to pay her for that time. The law also says that the employer must provide a clean private space that’s not a bathroom.
The very next day, Ana took the “Dear Employer Letter” to her manager at the pharmacy. “She knew I meant business,” Ana said. The manager and Ana never discussed pumping again, and Ana was able to pump as much as she needed to.
But Ana wasn’t done. She posted a copy of the “Dear Employer Letter” on the bulletin board in the pharmacy break room.
Happy Birthday! Zoe turned 1 in August 2016. Ana was still nursing her. “Now I’m trying to figure out how to cut it down,” Ana said. “If she’s cranky, I’ll breastfeed her. It’s mostly a bedtime thing now. She’s been drinking breastmilk from her Sippy Cup. And also cow’s milk.”
Ana still sees Sandra. Whenever her day off is a Wednesday, Ana goes to the breastfeeding support group. She enjoys talking about breastfeeding and babies with the other moms and learning new things.
What’s Sandra’s story? Sandra has served as a WIC breastfeeding peer counselor with South LA Health Projects for 12 years. Just like Ana, she used to be a WIC mother. And like Ana, she found breastfeeding painful in the beginning.
“I went to WIC to request formula when my baby was 2 weeks old,” Sandra said. “They asked if I wanted to see a breastfeeding counselor. I never knew that WIC had counselors. I said ‘Yes!’
Magical! “I told the WIC counselor my problem, that I had sore nipples. She showed me why, and how to position the baby. It no longer hurt. It was magical! I said ‘If it doesn’t hurt, I can continue breastfeeding.’”
Sandra exclusively breastfed her baby for the first year. This means the only milk she fed her baby was her own breastmilk, never any formula.
Impressed by Sandra One of the WIC educators at her WIC center was impressed by Sandra and encouraged her to apply for a job as a breastfeeding peer counselor. She applied and was hired. And soon after being hired, she began leading a breastfeeding support group. Right away, she also began working with moms one-on-one.
Sandra’s education was just beginning. She took part in 40 hours of lactation training delivered by a South LA Health Projects breastfeeding coordinator. Later, she took an additional professional training program in lactation education and management.
Today Sandra is a proud lactation specialist.
In 12 years, Sandra has helped thousands of mothers breastfeed successfully and better understand their babies’ behavior.
Precious Sandra says she loves what she does. “Every WIC mom and every WIC baby is precious.”