New mobile lactation center turns heads in rural eastern Oregon

Local nurse pilots new program to help moms
New mobile lactation center turns heads in rural eastern Oregon

A local nurse and mother is merging her passions, piloting a new program in rural eastern Oregon.

People who walk into Elizabeth Michael’s new RV will not find camping supplies.

On Fridays, it’s parked outside Chi St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton, where the nurse has worked for more than a decade in the Family Birthing Center.

Big bold letters spell out “Mobile Lactation Center” on the side of the vehicle.

“People say, ‘like a food truck for babies? Well, everyone’s gotta eat!” Michael laughed.

In 2013, the mother of three became a lactation consultant, providing resources to birthing mothers at the hospital about breast feeding.

She realized her Pendleton-based service could help others in more rural parts of Umatilla and Morrow counties.

Michael applied for and secured a $150,000 grant by the Oregon Office of Rural Health, enough to buy a second set of office equipment and an RV.

“People will pull up next to me and slow down on the highway,” she described. “I can tell they’re taking pictures of it.”

Since March, about two times a week, Michael takes the mobile clinic to areas like Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center and Boardman, sometimes even going to people’s front doors.

“The idea is to take the services to them,” Michael said. “So pull up outside their home, and have them and come in to the RV with their baby.”

According to Michael, many mothers experience difficulties when trying to breast-feed. Problems with latching, pain, infection, and a baby’s weight are common.

Kate Samp of Pendleton attends a weekly support group for nursing mothers at St. Anthony’s. She just had her third child, saying she never breast-fed successfully until receiving help.

“People think you should know because it’s your baby,” Samp said. “But if it’s your first time, or even if it’s your third time, it’s still challenging.”

Michael’s secondary goal, in addition to extending services to rural areas, is to promote the benefits of breast milk, regardless of how it’s administered.

“It’s our biological norm. It has protections, it has antibodies, it has the perfect amount of amino acids, proteins,” she explained. “[A mother] might be pumping and exclusively bottle-feeding her breast milk. She’s still successfully giving her baby her milk.”

Her data indicates areas of eastern Oregon have one of the lowest rates of birthing mothers who say they will attempt breast-feeding. She wants to raise the rate from 88-percent to the state average of at least 92-percent.

Michael stressed if possible, breast milk is the way to go, reducing the risk for cancer, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and others for both a mother and child.

Most of all, Michael wants moms who can’t make it to the hospital to know they aren’t alone.

“When I was a new nurse, of course I thought I would be fine, I knew everything. I didn’t.” Michael said. “And I struggled and I ended up being readmitted it to the hospital…Every breast-feeding journey comes with its own challenges.”