Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding up to two years of age is the gold standard recommended by UNICEF and WHO. Global evidence has proven unequivocally it is the best investment for optimal growth and intellectual development of your child.
Yet despite this evidence, worldwide, 92 million children under six months of age, two out of three babies are either artificially fed or fed a mixture of breast milk and other foods.
Karina Ayers, a West Australian midwife, lactation specialist and community nurse, lives in the rural South West. Having spent the last two decades committed to helping mum and baby thrive in the first year of life, she has decided the practical support needed by new mums is often not available.
From her home in Cowaramup, where she lives with her partner, Fynn, a builder and her two sons Kit and Ollie, she is using her experience, to see how she can help make sure breastfeeding remains the norm, not just in Australia but all over the world.
Karina has joined forces with Kathy Phelan, another Australian, now based in Silicon Valley, to create an app that will mix new technology and the best technical know-how to provide mums with simple techniques to overcome some of the challenges they face to breastfeeding.
The Mother Baby Project has been a labor of love for Karina, who has taken time out from her work as a community nurse to turn this dream into a reality.
1. Tell us about yourself and where you live?
I live in a very beautiful part of the world in the southwest corner of Western Australia, surrounded by bush and beaches. This is farming, wine growing and surfing country. I moved down here in my twenties and stayed. It is a supportive community where people have chosen the life style and appreciate the outdoor way of living. My partner Fynn and I have two fabulous boys. We live in an old home we have renovated using recycled wood and other local materials. My son’s Kit, who is 10 and Ollie, who is 8 years old, help look after the vegetable garden and the chickens. We seek to create a nurturing yet interesting environment for them.
I was lucky to grow up in a loving family, with horses, dogs and cats and a general fascination with nature and animals. This curiosity has always extended to wanting to better understand the behavior of babies and children. My partner Fynn, who also loves nature, is endlessly supportive of my ideas and my desire to try something new!
2. Tell us a little about why you chose to become a midwife and community nurse? What were the highlights?
After specialising in paediatric nursing, which I loved because kids are so true and honest, I was determined to become a midwife. I loved seeing the start of new life and being part of guiding parents and seeing their adjustment to this new role. I soon discovered that the process of breastfeeding and lactation is much more complex than what was taught in both nursing and midwifery, and I found myself drawn to learn more about it. So much of what I did as a midwife, was about parents being able to adapt and learn about breastfeeding. This often took time, and I didn’t really understand how important this was to the success of whether the baby would feed or not.
The best part of the job was being part of this amazing journey and seeing how I could help parents, especially mothers, to make this connection with their babies and succeed, especially in those critical first days, to start the breastfeeding process. But I also realized, mothers needed support beyond that initial period. As a community nurse and lactation consultant, I could extend my relationship with mother and baby beyond the first few days, to then be able to guide families over the next few months and help them continue as the baby grew and they moved from exclusive feeding to introducing foods.
I continue to be fascinated by child development during the first few years of a child’s life and being part of the journey by providing support to parents and their child to reach important developmental milestones.
3. What drove you to give up your day job as a community health nurse and midwife and work full time on the Mother Baby Project?
Despite loving my role as a coordinator for child health services, I often felt more could be done to support the parents if they had more access to the right information and support. Working in the rural and regional setting there was limitations to resources and often information and education materials were cumbersome not tailored to the needs of new parents.
With the advent of new technology, I was interested to see how by using these platforms we could supplement the information mothers received from nurses, in a way that was easy to use, practical and based on the latest science and best practice. Parents often receive a lot of conflicting consumer information, especially when the formula companies spend a lot of money promoting their products. So the idea is to make a platform that is accessible and user friendly but also trustworthy.
4. How did you meet Kath Phelan and become part of Small World Social?
After attending a conference in Melbourne in 2014 and seeing the presentation by SWS on the Breastfeeding- Google Glass project I thought, this is what I really want to do. Be part of something that is creative in design, and that brings together the best of research and evidence based practice, which is directed to families in a very simple digestible way using mobile technology. I reached out to Kathy Phelan and was immediately taken with the essence of her approach. She was open and excited to collaborate. It has been a great experience to work with her, as I feel like I am continually learning and she is an optimist, who also believes in this idea.
5. Why is this mother baby project so important to you?
Based on my experience, I know there are many women who want to breastfeed, but don’t get the right support when their baby is born. They may have trouble with the initial latching of the baby to the nipple, they may worry that they are not producing enough milk, or they may experience pain and problems that ultimately deter them from continuing. Often basic tips could overcome these challenges.
After 3 years of watching the technology space grow, globalization of industries take hold and developing a very close collaborative relationship with Kath and SWS, I want the Mother Baby Project to be the best of design but also use a human-centred approach with real people taking part to produce the content, and ultimately make sure it is useful for mothers.
This really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to team up with such an amazing international team for an area of health that is often underserved.