COVID-19 has made things hard for everyone, but one mom of two in Austin, Texas helped bring her community together to assist families in the NICU and others in need.

By Kristi Pahr
May 26, 2020
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Before the COVID-19 pandemic began it's spread across the country, Kara Michael spent her days like many other moms–shuffling the responsibilities of a newborn and preschooler and running her small business. Michael, an Austin, Texas-based occupational therapist and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) runs a breastfeeding clinic, Best Fed Beginnings, to provide the kind of support that breastfeeding moms need to get their breastfeeding relationship started off on the right foot, but when the pandemic hit, Michael chose to temporarily close her clinic to better protect her clients and her family.

Then as the effects of the coronavirus pandemic became more widespread, Michaels saw a need for breastfeeding support among new parents with babies in the neonatal intensive unit (NICU). So Michael teamed up with Mother's Milk Bank of Austin to facilitate free delivery of donated milk to area hospitals.

"The pandemic has added increased demand for donor breast milk due to an increase in mothers and babies being separated due to suspected or confirmed COVID-19," she explains. "It is very hard to produce milk without being able to see, touch, and hold your baby. The same situation is true for preemies who were already admitted to NICU due to stricter visitation policies in an effort to protect immature immune systems."

Credit: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

"After hearing about the baby formula shortages in local stores, I posted a few inquiries in different local Facebook mom groups to see if any mothers could donate extra breastmilk to the bank to support the increased need. I was overwhelmed with the responses of mothers who wrote back and shared my Facebook post to provide donations," Michael says. The formula shortages were temporary (mostly caused by individuals panic-buying in bulk), but the response from area moms has exceeded all expectations–over 5,500 ounces of breastmilk have been donated since mid-March.

Like many of us, Michael was shocked by the changes and upheaval wrought by the pandemic–especially for new moms. "I was completely unprepared for how everything changed," she explains. "Having a newborn myself, I understood the isolation and challenges that many new moms have faced during the pandemic." Michael went out of her way to continue providing support and opportunities for networking and companionship to her clients even though her brick and mortar business was not open. "While my clinic was closed, I still ensured that mothers could reach me with any questions they had, whether it be through text messages or through Facebook Messenger. I also felt it was important to share any tips and tricks I could with new moms about what they can do to support their babies during quarantine, and I was able to engage with my clients via Facebook Live to share these tips."

Despite the struggles faced by so many during the pandemic, Michael says she's witnessed amazing acts of community and support. "I have seen some incredible acts of resilience in the midst of this pandemic.  I know a lot of moms that have been successfully juggling all the 'normal' stuff like jobs, family, and housework, as well as now teaching their kids at home, along with many new responsibilities stemming from the pandemic."

And she says "milk donations have increased significantly since COVID-19 started, as well as in-kind donations of baby items to my clinic. It’s inspiring to see the number of strong women out there helping to hold society together."

If you would like more information about donating breastmilk, please visit www.milkbank.org.

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