As we close out National Breastfeeding Month, we look to the past and to the future through the eyes of a pioneer in the field, Kay Hoover. 

By Naomi Bromberg Bar-Yam, PhD

Kay Hoover is a pioneer in lactation consulting, a thoughtful and forceful breastfeeding advocate. We are so fortunate that she has relocated to Massachusetts to be nearer her children and grandchildren. For National Breastfeeding Month we checked in with Kay to learn more about her work and her vision of the future for breastfeeding support, promotion, and protection.

On the ground floor of the IBCLC profession

The birth and breastfeeding of her youngest sibling, when Kay was 16, was her first inspiration to breastfeed her own children. As a young mother, in the early 1970s, she became a La Leche League Leader.

In 1985, with 15 years of LLL experience, Kay and 13 friends studied together and sat for the first IBCLC qualifying exam. To prepare for the exam, they each bought a couple of clinical and popular breastfeeding books and traded them around. “It was hard to study at home, so I studied during my children’s sports practices.”

“We were in on the ground floor of this new profession. It was exciting and a little bit scary,” she remembers.

Over the years, Kay’s work has advanced the field in many ways.

After passing the IBCLC exam, Kay and a colleague, Chris Mulford, started a private lactation practice. “We got some referrals from pediatricians, fewer than I expected. It took time for them to understand what we did, and our value to their patients and practices.”

Breastfeeding photos: an innovation in reference books

Kay’s broadest impact was co-writing and updating seven editions of The Breastfeeding Atlas, with Barbara Wilson-Clay. It has been translated into multiple languages. “To this day, most reference books on breastfeeding have very few pictures. We felt pictures were important and included many photos. Our clients were happy to permit use of photos of their breasts to help others.”

In her work for the Philadelphia and then the Pennsylvania Departments of Health, she created breastfeeding materials for parents as well as city and state directories of resources for parents and professionals—before the internet!

Early adoption of skin-to-skin

Kay’s work in several hospitals included spearheading multiple breastfeeding supportive practices, such as skin-to-skin immediately after birth, including Cesareans.

The field has continued to advance. “LCs in private practice are seeing much more complex cases than when the field was young. LCs today function at a higher level. They are now accepted members of the perinatal health team.”

Looking forward

“The US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations! We know what the problems are—diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure. Our challenge is how to empower people to stay healthy. We are also behind the rest of the world in paid maternity leave, so important to breastfeeding success.”

Thank you, Kay, for all your work growing a new field, supporting new families, educating and inspiring so many of us in this field.

Kay Hoover with family members

Kay and her grandchildren

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