Keyana Somerset is a true national hero-she is an Active Duty Soldier, a Purple Heart Recipient, a breastfeeding mom to an 11 week-old baby girl, and a founder of a labor doula program, Lota, for low-income, teenage, and military moms in South Carolina. The ‘heart’ she earned for sustaining blast injuries–including to her left breast. Knowing that she had been Booby-Trapped with her first baby, and planning on having another, once she was out of danger all she could think about was “Will I be able to breastfeed?” “Will I be able to breastfeed?” None of the medics or surgeons attending to her knew the answer to that question. Today, she is successfully nursing her second baby and still defending our national freedom. And she is now fighting for another kind of human right: Keyana started Team Operation Lactation Freedom for Team Best for Babes so that moms and babies could enjoy freedom on our own soil– freedom from breastfeeding bullying, freedom to make an informed feeding decision, and freedom to carry that choice out without being undermined by the cultural, legal and institutional barriers that military and civilian moms face. It is our honor to know her and for her Team to be carrying the torch for Team BFB to protect our moms and babies!
PLEASE donate to Team Operation Lactation Freedom and their amazing Special Dad Forces to help them reach their fundraising goals for their October 27 10k race! Anyone donating $50 or more will receive a complementary Team Op Lac Free t-shirt (see right and below) but any amount is appreciated, no matter how small! Click here to donate.
BFB: You’re an Active Duty Soldier who recently stumbled upon BFB through a doctor at an army hospital. Can you tell us why you were inspired to start Team Operation Lactation Freedom and race for the Mother of All Causes?
I was there for an appointment for the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) I got from my blast injury. I had with me my 6 week-old daughter (at the time) and I asked my doctor if I could breastfeed in his office. He was just so calm and encouraging about me breastfeeding and showed me the Best for Babes website. It turned out he was BFB Co-Founder Danielle Rigg’s husband – Dr. John Rigg. I was so excited to see that site and I was totally impressed by the dedication of Danielle and her Co Founder Bettina Forbes! From what I could tell looking at it they must have been eat, sleep, breathing breastfeeding advocacy for Danielle’s husband to be promoting it! Later, when I talked with Danielle and she was so approachable it was even better! I toyed with the idea of starting a team because I absolutely LOVE to run and haven’t ever run for something I am passionate about. So once I was exploring the site…I felt if I was going to run for ANYTHING…this would definitely be it! I have always stood up for what I believed in (and still do) regardless of whether others agree or not. I love everything birth and baby…so I figured pairing something I loved to do already (running) with something else I loved to do (advocating for and helping women) how could I go wrong!!!! Low-income moms and military moms tend to hit A LOT OF resistance when it comes to making an educated decision regarding breastfeeding and that is what our focus is on! Plus, I was unsuccessful breastfeeding my first child because I didn’t get much support. Based on my military background, I felt that the name would only be fitting. The name was just perfect and now the Team is growing! We have 7 moms running and a few dads even. We’re on a mission to let freedom ring for moms and babies!
BFB: You received a Purple Heart while overseas, tell us about that injury.
I was a combat medic and really didn’t go outside of the gate a lot. I tended to do sick call for my unit, I assisted with Battalion sick call, and I also volunteered to assist the Navy at the hospital for the base so that I could obtain additional clinical knowledge. On June 3, 2010, I was about to take a shower when a rocket attack was announced, but by then I was hit already. I sustained a through and through injury to my upper right thigh, shrapnel the length of my pinky penetrated my left breast, tendon damage to my right (my dominant) hand, nerve damage to my ankle, Traumatic Brain Injury and the wonderful PTSD.
BFB: Talk about breastfeeding under extreme circumstances! Did the injury make breastfeeding your second more difficult?
Honestly, once I realized that I was OK but that my left breast was hit, all I could think about was “Will I be still be able to breastfeed?” I asked that question over and over again as they were sewing me up and no one could tell me! Now that I’m nursing my daughter, it has proved challenging because my left breast produces noticeably less milk than the uninjured breast. My daughter also doesn’t favor the injured breast so that’s a challenge at times. But I still manage to make plenty of milk and we’re doing great! Note: The lack of education among physicians about the lactating breast and breastfeeding is a huge Booby Trap. Most doctors, including Plastic Surgeons, receive little if no education on how to avoid damaging milk ducts during breast augmentations, reductions, and repairs such as Keyana’s. However, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) credentials physicians for undergoing specialty education in lactation and more physicians are seeking this training to provide better care. Read “How a Surgeon Ended up in the ABM” and tell your doctors to join the ABM and take advantage of their fantastic clinical protocols providing the latest and best evidence-based treatments! Read our Booby Trap Blog series for more about the physician booby traps. Keyana is also a perfect example of how even with one breast making less milk, most moms can still make a perfect supply for their babies, if given the right support. Breasts can be like magic!
BFB: What was your breastfeeding experience with your first baby? I had planned to breastfeed my first child. I was adamant about it. It didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I was young and didn’t really have a lot of support, my family and I weren’t on speaking terms and I was living with a friend of mine. I was 18, had no real knowledge of birth or benefits of breastfeeding…I just knew that if my body made it for my baby, than it has to be better than something that wasn’t naturally produced. My friend tried to tell me about breastfeeding, but was going through a lot herself and we just didn’t have time to discuss it. I was unemployed. When I had my son, I got a quick few minutes from the hospital lactation consultant. She nicely showed me how to get him to latch, but didn’t explain it as thoroughly as I would have liked. She gave me her number and told me to come back if I had any issues. I didn’t have a car to get back to the hospital if I did need help, so I just took her offer with a nod and a smile. I had no real guidance, I let him latch wrong, then, of course, my nipples cracked, and it was just plain uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to use my manual pump so I was always engorged. Due to lack of stimulation, and the fact that we really could only afford to eat once day, I wasn’t really producing a lot of milk. Eventually I started supplementing with lactose free formula and then I finally just went full blown soy formula after a lot of frustration, tears, and pain. Note: Keyana’s story is unfortunately all too common. Only 6% of US hospitals follow protocols proven to result in breastfeeding success – the 10 Steps to being Baby-Friendly, and most score a D (a 65!) on breastfeeding care. See our Checklist to avoid the hospital Breastfeeding Booby Traps®.
BFB: What memory of breastfeeding your first child do you carry with you to this day?
Well, the memory of my first was how painful it was and how bad I wanted to make it work. What made me want to do it again was remembering snuggling with my him, the smell of the milk, especially on his breath, the connection, those eyes looking at me and just feeling the LOVE!!!!
BFB: What motivated you to want to breastfeed your second baby?
Knowing how much I felt like I failed with my first was part of the motivation of me breastfeeding the second. Knowing that it is the best for my baby was extremely important but that formula companies bogart hospitals to push formula, knowing that breast milk was meant to be the norm but that doing it seems to go against the norm, knowing that it would set a great example for others, knowing that I desired the full experience of feeding my child with the milk of life that I was blessed enough to create JUST FOR HER. Formula isn’t created specifically for the child that the mother carries…breastmilk is! I owed it to my child, myself, and the others that I would encounter that may find themselves in the same situation I was in with either or both children.
BFB: What has been the most helpful to you in getting it right this time?
Having the knowledge of being a doula I was more equipped! I also know more women who breastfeed, I knew about La Leche League, I also have an electric breast pump this go- around. And now I know about Best for Babes! It’s also a different environment now since I think more people are willing to be taught about breastfeeding and are willing to stick with it without pressure of switching to formula. My hubby even stopped so I could get the batteries so I could pump in the car when we took a long trip out of town and I wasn’t totally prepared. It’s still a learning process for me since this is technically my first true breastfeeding go around, but my family learns with me! Note: Breastfeeding is a learning curve for both moms and babies that takes time to master!
What do you think of Team Op Lac Free? What Booby Traps did you beat?
To read more about Keyana’s experience breastfeeding in the military on our partner Breastfeeding in Combat Boot’s blog click here.