Faces of Cedars-Sinai: Lactation Consultant Barbara Plowden
Aug 03, 2020 Agata Smieciuszewski
Meet Barbara Plowden, a lactation consultant at Cedars-Sinai!
For 20 years, she's been helping new moms at Cedars-Sinai get comfortable with breastfeeding. She was a co-founder of the lactation program for neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) babies and mothers, supporting some of our tiniest patients and their families.
We chatted with her to learn more about her role, her journey to Cedars-Sinai and her passions outside of work.
My favorite part of the job is working hands-on with the parents and babies. Seeing the progress that each of the babies makes is really satisfying—you really develop such a special bond with the families.
How did the lactation program start in the NICU?
Barbara Plowden: I started at Cedars-Sinai 20 years ago working in postpartum, but then I quickly realized that they needed support in the NICU. A colleague and I started the program with the goal of increasing the rate of breastfeeding. When we started, the rate was really low—now most of our parents provide breast milk or breastfeed!
What does a breastfeeding consult look like?
BP: We have lactation consultants in the NICU, the pediatric ICU and pediatrics. We get called in to help any families that need additional support.
In the NICU, we look at the patient's age and how long they will be here, and we set up a plan based on that. If it's a baby who's only going to be here for a day or two, we'll meet the mom at bedside, assist with breastfeeding and answer any questions.
On an average day, I do about five or six feeding consults in the NICU. For babies that stay in the NICU long term, we work very closely with the moms and are checking with them at least once a week on their pumping progress, milk production and any medication questions—and we're very involved with our babies' nutrition plans.
What's your favorite part of the job?
BP: My favorite part of the job is working hands-on with the parents and babies. Seeing the progress that each of the babies makes is really satisfying—you really develop such a special bond with the families. We also usually have a NICU family reunion every year, where previous NICU babies return and we get to see them years later.
Are there any misconceptions about breastfeeding that you'd want to address?
BP: There are some people who think you should only ever breastfeed. I see it differently, however, because I know that a lot of times—for different reasons—some moms can't breastfeed or they've chosen to pump.
As lactation consultants, our role is to educate families to have a successful plan. I'd like people to understand that it's not just about breastfeeding—there's a whole psychosocial sort of part to it that we address.
How has COVID-19 affected what you do?
BP: It hasn't really impacted it too much, other than wearing extra personal protective equipment in certain situations.
What's your favorite part of working at Cedars-Sinai?
BP: I think Cedars-Sinai's administration is very good to their employees. They look at each employee as a whole. If there's something missing, or they're feeling like employees need more support or whatever it is, I think they take that to heart and they listen, and they develop programs around what employees are saying that they're needing.
And in the NICU, I think it's our team. It's this big collaborative team of different ancillary groups and then the nursing staff.
I think we've become really tightly bonded because we see what our patients go through, and we're all invested in making sure that the families have the best outcomes. I think that it just pulls us together as a team.
What do you like to do outside of work?
BP: My husband and I spend a lot of time at the beach. I belong to a hiking group, so I hike a lot. In my downtime, I'm a huge reader—I read a lot of books every year. And I recently got back to doing watercolor painting again, which I had done when I was younger.
What kind of books do you like to read?
BP: Oh, everything. I was into the Outlander series. That was huge. I like historical books. And I'm a huge travel buff, so my husband and I travel a lot with our two girls. We went to Europe, and I went to Scotland with my mom. I love that kind of stuff.
Is that what you're looking forward to getting back to after COVID-19?
BP: Yes, absolutely. We were supposed to go on a trip in the spring to Portugal, and it got canceled. So I would like to do more trips, because my husband is now moving toward retirement. Our kids are in their 20s, so they're independent, and we're looking forward to that kind of stuff.