Q&A: Ingrid Andersson, Nurse Midwife- Founder of Mother's Milk Alliance

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I'm absolutely thrilled to share this question and answer with Ingrid Andersson,  RN, CNM, MS.  Not only is she, as a friend put it, "just an amazing human," she is the Founder and President of Mothers' Milk Alliance, Inc., a Board member of Women's Medical Fund, Inc., member of the Dane County Public Health Fetal and Infant Mortality Review team and former Steering Committee member of Wisconsin Environmental Health Network. She has been a regular guest speaker in the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and Department of Gender and Women's Studies, as well as at Edgewood College, Madison College and Dane County Emergency Services. Prior to midwifery, she worked as a volunteer family crisis intervention counselor and later as a doula. For 8 years, she worked as an RN in high-risk antepartum, postpartum, newborn and breastfeeding care at St Mary's Hospital (SSM Health) in Madison. While a nurse, she travelled to Kenya to learn from traditional birth attendants and British-trained midwives.  Read on to hear directly from Ingrid.

I've heard such wonderful things about you, your practice, and your role in Mother's Milk Alliance!  Can you tell me a little about your path to becoming a midwife, and what led you to start Mother's Milk Alliance here in Madison?

I became a midwife because of what my immigrant mother experienced in childbirth. She was given an amnesiac in active labor and was stranded like a beetle on her back, bound to a bed with leather straps around her wrists and ankles. When the chemical fog cleared, her baby was out of sight, being fed formula, and her breasts were bound with Ace bandages so her milk would dry up. This was a routine experience for 2 or 3 generations of childbearing women in the U.S.

As a doula in Madison 25 years later, I saw that some things had improved since I was born, thanks to the 70's childbirth reform movement. But women still were routinely stranded on their backs, strapped down by protocols and monitors, and few women had the support they deserved and needed for successful breastfeeding. 

From my work on farms here and abroad and in cultural anthropology, I knew birth could be a lot more respected, satisfying and empowering. And humans certainly wouldn't have become the successful species that we are, if breastfeeding had always been so difficult! 

So I set out to learn how to merge modern advances with woman-led pregnancy, birth and postpartum and became a home birth nurse midwife 18 years ago.

Around 2007, a mother in my practice experienced a stillbirth. She chose to pump milk for donation to a national milk bank as part of her healing process. I drew and sent off her blood for the required labwork and helped her package her milk for shipping. A couple of months later, another mother in my practice had mammary gland insufficiency and was not making enough milk for her baby. I suggested she talk to the donor mother...and Mothers' Milk Alliance was born. Today, MMA distributes on average 5000-6000 ounces each month to babies in need of human milk.

Photo courtesy of  Nicole Streeter Photography

Photo courtesy of Nicole Streeter Photography

How is Mother's Milk Alliance different than milk banks like Mother's Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes or other milk sharing groups like Eats on Feets?

Mothers Milk Alliance is unique in 3 ways: the milk is local, free and untreated. That means milk is pumped and frozen by local mothers, their extra milk is brought to MMA freezers and distributed back out to local babies -- all on a community volunteer basis. There is no thawing, pooling, pasteurizing and refreezing of milk, as there is in milk banks. That means important nutrients are preserved. 

Any recipient mother may pasteurize MMA milk on her stove-top before feedings, and we provide easy instructions for that process. 

Photo courtesy of  Nicole Streeter Photography

Photo courtesy of Nicole Streeter Photography

What is the process involved for donating or hosting milk for MMA?

Both donors and recipients can find everything they need to know at our website, www.mothersmilkalliance.org. MMA provides skilled education and referral support around many topics related to breastfeeding, milk sharing and supplementing. 

Donors are tested for the same communicable diseases that national milk banks test their donors for. Donors also sign a health history and safe milk handling statement and label their frozen milk for age matching and tracking purposes. After the lab tests are cleared, a donor is connected to the most convenient freezer host for pick-up or drop-off. If a donor is interested in direct exchange with a recipient, that can also sometimes be arranged.

Photo credit:   Sisters Essence Photography

Let's talk about home birth.  What are the advantages of birthing at home?  What happens in an emergency situation?

If a healthy woman's goal is respected, mother-led pregnancy and birth, she should start at home. A significant percentage of my families have medical backgrounds. They have learned first-hand, as I did, that your physical and emotional potential are optimal when you partner with a specialist in prevention and normal birth (a midwife) toward labor, birth and breastfeeding in your safest, most comfortable and familiar environment (for most of us, our home).

In the event of a complication at any point during pregnancy, birth or postpartum, a midwife consults with a medical professional who specializes in complications, much as a Family Practice physician does. In labor, transfer to hospital is a smooth and well received process that has been thoroughly discussed beforehand and usually occurs by private car. Once in a rare while an ambulance is needed, and thanks to home-to-hospital trainings with local midwives since 2002, area transport staff are terrific and are educated about home birth and the skills of midwives.

Photo courtesy of  Nicole Streeter Photography

Photo courtesy of Nicole Streeter Photography

Lastly, what are the criteria for a good home birth candidate?

Any healthy woman who desires a central role in her partnership with her pregnancy, birth and newborn team can consider working with a midwife toward birth at home. In the Madison area, she can find all the practicing midwives at www.madisonmidwives.com.

Thanks so much to Ingrid for taking the time to participate in this Q&A!  You can reach out to her directly via her Community Midwives, LLC website here.

Written by Angie Traska of Align Doula Services, providing intuitive, attentive doula support that aligns with you.  Serving Madison, WI and the surrounding areas.  Looking for doula support or lactation counseling in Madison?  Contact me here.