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“Have you seen Attie?” That’s the question you are likely to be asked by friends and medical professionals alike if you live in the Hamilton/Halton, Ontario, region and are struggling with breastfeeding. Attie Sandink, registered nurse and highly regarded lactation consultant, has dedicated her career to supporting mothers through their breastfeeding journeys. Attie is the founder of Birth and Baby Needs, a pregnancy and lactation support clinic. She says her mission is “to support breastfeeding mothers, to show there are many ways for it to look like in our world, and to promote it in the best way possible to keep moms and babies healthy.”
When you walk into her clinic, you might suspect she’s a person of faith upon seeing the poster bearing the psalmist’s declaration “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Attie’s faith pours into all she does in reaching out to mothers and seeking to provide the care they need. Breastfeeding seems like the most natural experience between a mother and child. But many mothers find it a painful and frustrating initiation into providing for their child. Attie offers holistic care for her clients, taking into account “the whole picture of mom and baby; parent and baby; father, mother, and baby; seeing how the relationship goes. Because if you don’t understand that relationship, you’ll never understand why milk is not being made, what’s interfering with the process. The emotional aspect is just as important as the physical aspect.”
When I first met Attie, I was a sleep-deprived mess of nerves and disappointment. For a slew of reasons, we had had great difficulties with breastfeeding, including a delayed start due to medical causes, low supply, clogged ducts, and a painful latch. Still, I could not shake the dream of breastfeeding my baby, even if we needed to supplement. Attie met me at my home and asked about everything: the birth experience, family history, parenting techniques, support network. She showed great compassion when I shared that my mother had died of breast cancer five years earlier. Thus began a months long texting relationship during which I messaged her in a panic more times than I care to admit.
Attie couldn’t offer me a silver bullet solution to solve all of our issues. It was a hard and long journey, and she was honest with me while ensuring my baby was getting the top-up he needed. But the patient support and encouragement she offered me was invaluable.
Almost a year and a half later, we meet over caramel rooibos lattes and apple fritters, and, once again, I learn a great deal from her. She’s happy to hear I’m still nursing, and I’m happy to learn about how God led her to this vocation.
Attie began her work with mothers in the mid-80s while working as a labor and delivery nurse. She was having her own children at that time and observed how little support there was for breastfeeding mothers; the field of lactation consulting was just beginning. She pursued training and started working as a lactation consultant in hospitals in the early 90s.
Attie opened her clinic around 15 years ago because she saw a need for affordable private lactation consultation. In Ontario, we are fortunate to have publically funded lactation consultants, but they can’t provide consistency of care (patients do not see the same consultant with each visit), and often this care ends six weeks postpartum.
Attie feels that there are different issues for mothers now than when she started this work. “There’s pressure on moms to be out and about, doing their running again, getting back to the way they were before.” As well, there is so much information easily accessible, but some of this information is not in the baby’s best interest and can create obstacles to our ability to listen to our instincts. “I’m hoping that I’m bringing back that creational stuff,” she says. “It’s not just nourishment—it’s also nurture. Nourishing is a very important part, but the nurturing is all part of God’s plan.”
Attie’s approach to baby care includes a strong emphasis on respect for the child. “As the baby is made in the image of God, it needs to be treated as such.” Babies are born with many reflexes and instincts, and parents can learn to read these cues to be in tune with baby. For instance, “there’s that whole nurturing, oxytocin, bonding thing happening right after the babies are born, and if we leave that alone, babies will self-attach.” Attie is by no means opposed to conventional medicine, but she cautions that “sometimes we intervene too much” with the instinctual process of birth and baby care. We “need to stop taking away parents’ basic instincts.” She feels she’s still learning to answer the question, “how do we bring natural and normal back in?”
Many mothers make healthy decisions to bottle feed instead of breastfeeding. Breastfed—whether by bottle or breast—is best. But it’s deeply important that mothers be supported by family, friends and healthcare professionals in the breastfeeding process, and that they understand thet breastfeeding looks different for different people. Sometimes it involves expressing milk and bottle feeding; “Some of it looks like partial breastfeeding, and some of it looks like building up supply.”
Attie says, “A lot of people will say, ‘Are you still doing lactation consulting? Leave that to the younger ones!’ But it’s just as important now—maybe even more so because of all the things that are thrown at you young ones.” She serves God as she brings her years of experience to her interactions with mothers, as well as to her mentorship of interns training as lactation consultants and nurses. “Christian compassion keeps pushing me . . . to do whatever I can. That is my calling.”