Chinny Obinwanne is a UK-based Nigerian medical doctor, Lactation Consultant and a member of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. She runs The Milk Booster company, providing lactation solutions and empowering expectant, nursing mothers and healthcare professionals with evidence-based knowledge on breastfeeding. Obinwanne is also the convener of The Milk Booster breastfeeding conference running in its third year which is in commemoration of the World Breastfeeding Week, every August 1 – 7. In this interview with IJEOMA-THOMAS-ODIA, she talks about her passion for ensuring that mothers overcome their breastfeeding struggles.
The Milk Booster breastfeeding conference held today, what do you aim to achieve and who is expected to be there?
The Milk Booster is organising the third Annual Breastfeeding Conference in Lagos today. The theme for this year is “Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding.” So it is a gathering for single, pregnant, breastfeeding mothers and fathers. We will be learning about breastfeeding from experts like a UK International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. There will also be speakers that will cover women’s empowerment as well as fathers. The event will kick off with our breastfeeding walk, then fun activities, breastfeeding consultation, health checks, competitions with gifts and goody bags for all.
This is our third time hosting this event. The first time we had about 50 attendees, the second time which was last year we had about 250 attendees in Lagos, this year we are expecting a lot more. It has always been about encouraging breastfeeding amongst Nigerian women and that has been the exact feedback we’ve gotten each time. Mothers are learning more and more about breastfeeding, getting direct answers to their issues, networking with others that have done it and this encourages them to keep going.
At what point did you set up The Milkbooster?
Back in 2016, after I had my baby, my mum came for omugwo. She could only stay three months and I had six months of maternity leave and my husband is also a doctor which literally means I will be on my own with the baby. So I packed my bag and followed my mum home because I will have plenty of help. I packed my cookies ingredients while coming back so that I don’t have to worry about breastmilk. I baked and not only was my mum and siblings eating my cookies, but my mum also started sharing them with every new mum from church members to family friends, etc. I was giving my friends, too, that had issues.
By December 2016 it became too expensive to continue so many suggested I start selling as nothing as it existed in the market. It took me another four months to actually get The Milk Booster up and running. We are currently two years in this and it’s been awesome.
At what point did you decide to become a lactation consultant in your medical career?
I have been working in surgery for the longest I could remember. Then I became pregnant with my first child and expected to have an easy breastfeeding experience. Instead, I was faced with challenges, starting from my baby need to be in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, to not having my milk and producing less than her appetite after we got home. I kept trying different things that were not working for me. Then one day, as my baby was still not getting satisfied with my breastmilk, my husband threatened to start my baby on formula. That literally was the moment everything changed for me. I embarked on a journey that I never imagined my whole life before then.
How important is breastfeeding to the wellness of a baby?
Breastfeeding is very important for every baby. There are lots of benefits. It helps your baby pass the first stool – meconium easily, it helps line the gut of your baby protecting your baby from common illnesses, it reduces the risk of respiratory infection, asthma, allergies, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, ear infections, leukemia. It reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome which is when a healthy baby just dies. Also even when a breastfed baby falls sick, breastfeeding reduces the length of hospital stay as your body keeps producing more antibodies to help your baby fight any disease.
Are there benefits to the mum as well?
Yes, it reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, postpartum depression, postpartum bleeding and it helps you return to your pre-pregnancy weight. Also, it’s always available and at normal temperature and easier than having to give bottles.
Tell us about your growing up, any personal experience that led to choosing lactation as a field?
I grew up in a big family. The first of seven kids. All I remember about breastfeeding was my mum making me carry our last-born to her in her office every afternoon after school to breastfeed him. There were these women in the church that preached exclusive breastfeeding and she wanted to do it. That made exclusive breastfeeding stick in my head. It was something I knew I was going to do. So I will say having that mindset gave me the will-power to fight through all my struggles and find a solution that worked for me, now working for thousands of mothers now.
What is your opinion is the reason breastfeeding is no longer a necessary option for mothers?
I have come to find out that the lack of appropriate knowledge is the underlying factor for premature weaning. I believe that Nigeria can go from a 23.7 percent breastfeeding rate to a 50 percent breastfeeding rate in a few years. It is my dream to reduce the rate of suboptimal breastfeeding to the barest minimum. I have successfully helped a lot of mothers save money, increase their breast milk supply, exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months and achieve their breastfeeding goals.
What are some of the reasons for the low breastmilk supply?
First is a lack of support in the early postpartum, inadequate latch (when a baby is not attached to the breast correctly and so cannot transfer breastmilk). This means the body is not getting effective demand and will, in turn, reduce the amount of breastmilk produced.
Next is falling into the formula trap, new mums who end up not having enough breastmilk start their babies on formula and when the mums milk comes in, the volume is low that it will not meet up with the volume the newborn has been getting via bottle, so mum has to keep topping up and without that extra help, will keep going around a circle. The last one is having a low demand, some mums come to us and they are only nursing or pumping about five times a day. That is low demand and will cause the body to produce less.
For busy/working-class women, how can they effectively breastfeed?
They need to plan ahead. After getting their breastmilk established by three weeks postpartum, they need to start building a stash gradually and also introducing the baby to bottle like once or twice a week. With this, she can have a good stash before going back to work and her baby can take the expressed breastmilk from someone else. Also, she needs to know what her workplace has in place, are there pumping or nursing breaks? Are there creches available for babies? Knowing all of these ahead and prepping for them will help every working lady achieve their breastfeeding goals.
What challenges have you faced running The Milk booster and living your dreams as a lactation expert?
I will say my social life is more or less non-existent. We have good times when there is a great team running everything smoothly and then we have also had tough times. Most of the challenges include raising funds to drive the business forward or else we spend longer periods achieving results. We also face the challenge of reaching all the mothers that need our help due to distance. I am also grateful for my support team in Nigeria especially my mum and siblings.
How do you juggle work and family?
This one is still a struggle, I don’t have a nanny or childminder. Some days are good and other days are bad. One of the good things I have is a supportive husband who helps with so much and then my daughter attends nursery so we try to work out our schedule at work, so it doesn’t overlap so that one of us is always available to stay with our daughter and mind her while the other is working.
Tell us a bit about your educational background?
I grew up in the Eastern part of Nigeria. I attended the Federal Government Girls’ College Owerri. After that, I left for Poland, where I did my medical degree and then moved to Ireland to work. After having my baby, I have undergone further lactation training to become a Lactation Consultant.
How do you manage running a business in Nigeria and to work in the UK?
It’s not easy. There are lots of lapses because I am not on the ground. Also, there are lapses due to my full-time job, but luckily I have a great family support system that fills the gaps and some team members hold things down. So I communicate very often with them that way I stay very much in touch. Having no business experience from my end was another issue. I had to learn and also invest in team training.