OT Students Bring Expertise to the Breastfeeding Resource Center

After the birth of her son three years ago, Salus University Occupational Therapy (OT) department chair Lauren Sponseller, OTD, was experiencing what is commonly referred to as the “baby blues.”  In search of a local support group, she found the nearby Breastfeeding Resource Center (BRC) in Abington, Pa. The facility offers lactation consultant (LCs) and a variety of services such as group education sessions on pain management, role transition and developmental milestones, among other helpful topics for new moms.

“For me it was a really great place to go,” she said. “It was welcoming and inclusive to all moms.”

Visiting the BRC became part of Dr. Sponseller’s weekly routine, and she eventually joined the BRC’s Board of Directors. Realizing the potential of OT students to work with the LCs at the BRC, within about a year and with the support of the BRC’s executive director, the Salus-BRC relationship began. Initially, Level 1 students spent time on-site at the BRC observing and providing co-treatment with LCs.

OT Students Bring Expertise to the Breastfeeding Resource Center
L-R: Emily Shiflet ‘17OT, Marissa Yahil ‘17OT, and Shannon Saladik ‘17OT

Today, OT students of all levels are placed at all BRC locations in a variety of roles. In addition to Abington, Pennsylvania locations include Bensalem and King of Prussia. One student – Marissa Yahil ‘17OT – who had a Level 1 fieldwork rotation at the BRC, just recently finished her Level 2 coursework there with fellow second year students Emily Shiflet and Shannon Saladik . At each location, the students attended support groups; offered a variety of classes on topics such as tummy time, babywearing, and coping with stress; and performed one-on-one developmental screenings for children from three months to three years old.

“After class, we often spoke with mothers one-on-one in order to address their specific questions on infant development or regarding pain they were experiencing during certain activities like bath time, breastfeeding, or diaper changes,” Marissa said.

The biggest lesson from spending time at the BRC, she said, is OTs completing fieldwork there are positioned to address questions and issues beyond the scope of practice of LCs, pediatricians, and OB-GYNS. In fact, OTs help educate LCs about when referring to occupational therapy or therapists is appropriate.

“Like all health professionals, LCs commonly refer to other professions when the needs of their clients are beyond the scope of their practice,” Marissa said. “OTs are uniquely able to help mothers come up with creative ways to carry out daily activities involved in caring for their babies.”

And, the moms at the BRC agree that the OT services have become essential. One of those moms is Kelly Ford, who has two daughters – one is five months and the other is nearly three years old. She initially visited the Abington BRC to consult with LCs for both daughters, especially the youngest, who experienced latch issues – a common issue for new moms.

OT Students Bring Expertise to the Breastfeeding Resource CenterThroughout her time at the BRC, Ms. Ford has attended group sessions and interacted with students individually through email and in person to plan short term goals for herself. Marissa has screened both her daughters, providing thorough and useful reports to Ms. Ford and her husband. The students have provided valuable information on important topics, she said, including returning to work, appropriate toys for infants and toddlers, and the importance of tummy time.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the Salus OT students,” Ms. Ford said. “They are immensely helpful and compassionate towards all of us moms who are truly trying to do the best we can.”

And in return, the students have learned some life lessons from mothers at the BRC – such as the importance of having a good sense of humor after giving birth – and are thankful they were met with welcome arms.

“We have learned a lot of practical tips from the moms at the BRC, too,” Marissa said. “They have come up with the most creative solutions to a variety of dilemmas that new mothers face.”

Dr. Sponseller looks forward to the potential for growth opportunities surrounding the relationship between Salus and the BRC, and possibly expanding the OT students’ role in breastfeeding to other institutions. During her time at the BRC, she’s also been working towards her PhD, focused on studying the role of the OT in breastfeeding. She has been completing this under the combined mentorship of Fern Silverman, EdD, OTR/L, Salus associate professor and director of the Doctoral Program in Occupational Therapy, and Pamela Roberts, PhD, OTR/L, director of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Recently, Dr. Sponseller presented on the interdisciplinary approach to breastfeeding at the AOTA Annual Conference in Philadelphia.

As Dr. Sponseller noted, everything about the Salus-BRC relationship is a win. Among the many benefits are students have the opportunity to develop research opportunities, the effort helps with grant funding, and simply put, all in all, it makes the moms at the BRC happy.

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