‘MILE MAKERS’: UPPER KEYS LACTATION SPECIALIST IS THERE WHEN MOMS NEED HELP

Alanna Dixon is an international board-certified lactation consultant. CAROLYN DePAULA/Keys Weekly

Many in the public do not realize the myriad duties and effort it takes to accomplish what it is each person does to serve, produce, persuade, write, repair, advocate for, document, research, fundraise or build. In the Florida Keys, there are many who quietly work behind the scenes, and no one is the wiser of what it takes to be a lactation consultant. 

The first “Mile Maker” is an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). The only IBCLC in the Upper Keys — and one of only two in Monroe County — Alanna Dixon is a dynamic woman with a sparkle in her eyes, which speaks of the passion for her profession. She helps moms who have questions and issues with breastfeeding their babies. The Keys Weekly sat down with her to explore what she does to contribute to the success of the Florida Keys.

What is the name of your business? Upper Keys Lactation.

How does one become an IBCLC? Each candidate must meet certain health science requirements, as well as lactation-specific education. There are, however, three pathways that candidates can choose from to meet the lactation-specific clinical practice requirement.

How many hours do you devote to your craft on a weekly basis? Some weeks I will be doing lactation-specific work up to 20 hours; other weeks, as little as 2-3 (hours). There are waves of assistance needed.

What do your day-to-day duties look like? When a family reaches out to me to ask for breastfeeding assistance, I typically get a quick rundown on what is happening as to ensure the urgency of the situation. Once the breastfeeding history paperwork is complete (think full history but about the mom/their pregnancy and the baby), I schedule the appointment. 

I see families in the comfort of their home. I will do a full history, go over all paperwork and discuss the issue(s) the mom is having with breastfeeding. Then I will do an evaluation on the baby. We then move forward with nursing at the breast, if mom is comfortable doing so. I will assist with making adjustments to relieve any discomfort she is having. 

We then come up with a plan to help the mom move forward with her breastfeeding goals, whatever those may be. After the appointment I then type up a report of the visit, send it to the baby’s health care provider, to keep them in the loop about our care plan. Depending on the situation, I may reach out to mom the next day or a few days later to check in and see how she’s doing. I also stay up-to-date with current research, by watching webinars or attending conferences when I am able.

In your opinion, what’s the reason your job is important? Most women plan on breastfeeding when they have their baby; however, interventions in birth or early days of a not-so-successful latch can be painful and deter that goal. I want to help more women meet those goals, whether it be to breastfeed for a month or 1 year.

Did you always know you wanted to be an IBCLC? How did you get introduced to your career? After I had my first child, I needed the assistance of an IBCLC to help with his latch. We then went on to breastfeed for 18 months, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Friends would ask me for advice or support, and it felt right for me. I already had my bachelor’s degree, but learned there’s a master’s degree in this field that could help meet the requirements to be an IBCLC, so I took that route.

What are some of the challenges you face when practicing in the Florida Keys? The lack of resources for sure. If a mom needs a pump, or a pump part, we don’t have anywhere to purchase items. Also, the distance of being able to see families can be tough. I live in Key Largo and get calls from families in Marathon or Key West needing help.

What is your favorite part of the job? The favorite part of my job is definitely helping moms meet their goals and supporting them wherever they are. If a mom tells me she wants to breastfeed for 3 months, then switch to formula, I will help her get there. I am a good listener and, so many times, a new mom needs someone to listen.

How far do you travel to visit moms who need your help? Do you do phone consultations? My primary area is the Upper Keys; however, I have traveled to the Homestead area, as well as Marathon to see a family. I do offer phone consultations as well.

What would you advise an aspiring IBCLC? Don’t give up! I know getting the requirements to sit for the exam can be difficult, but can be done. The reward of helping families makes it all worth it.

What is the one aspect about your work/career that you wish people knew? That I support families without judgment. There can be a stigma that people in the lactation world believe that breastfeeding is the only option. I am not like that and support all families and their choice to feed. As long as the baby is getting fed and mom is supported, and happy, I am happy. Also, if someone calls themselves a lactation consultant, it doesn’t mean they are an IBCLC. The term is not trademarked, and anyone can call themselves a lactation consultant.To contact Alanna Dixon, visit www.upperkeyslactation.com.

Carolyn DePaula
Originally hailing from the tropical island paradise of Aruba, Carolyn, now a longtime resident of the Upper Keys, knows the islands and its people quite well. With three kids and a husband who was raised here, she also continues to enjoy the many events the Keys have to offer. Carolyn has always had a passion for language, reading, history and writing, her mom having been an editor and her father a translator. An FIU graduate, Carolyn believes in learning something new each day — preferably while enjoying a large cup of coffee with her dog on her lap.