When a mother leaves the hospital after giving birth, she can often find herself at home dealing with a flood of hormonal changes and stress. Then there are the choices about how to feed their baby. Some parents choose infant formula, while others opt for traditional breastfeeding, the latter of which provides the greatest health benefits, but can also lead to pain or challenges with milk production.
That’s where Danielle Thompson ’15 steps in.
The SUNY Potsdam alumna is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She launched Bloom Breastfeeding in 2022 to support new mothers with their breastfeeding goals. After extensive training in the field, and passing the prestigious IBCLC exam, she now works one-on-one with parents to address a variety of issues related to breastfeeding. She said that a lot of women receive excellent care in the hospital, but after being discharged they can silently struggle with pain or discomfort, and can give up on breastfeeding for less beneficial alternatives like infant formula.
“Sixty percent of mothers don’t reach their breastfeeding goals and so it’s really important to work with somebody who is trained in lactation. Usually, if there’s pain, there’s a specific reason, and an IBCLC like myself would be able to come in and offer a breast exam, oral exam for the baby, and latch assessment to really identify what’s causing the pain. Just because breastfeeding is natural doesn’t mean it’s easy—it’s a learned skill."
“SUNY Potsdam believed in me and that empowered me to achieve so much in life. I never imagined I would be the owner of a growing private lactation practice. So, I always strive to believe in others.”
Now a successful entrepreneur, Thompson got her start at SUNY Potsdam just over a decade ago. Within the first few weeks of enrolling at the College, she discovered the community health program. A swimming instructor and lifeguard in her youth, she was immediately drawn to the program’s emphasis on health education. “Teaching people has always been something that I liked to do. I remember walking into Dunn Hall and seeing a big CPR certification poster and something told me that’s where I needed to be,” she recalled.
Thompson took a variety of classes that prepared her for her career, the most impactful of which was Program Planning. The course challenged her in many ways and helped her gain confidence as she gave presentations on a variety of health topics to her professors and classmates. “The professors at SUNY Potsdam really believed in me. I wasn’t your typical A-plus student. I really had to teach myself how to learn. Once I started succeeding, I really wanted to become one of those Eta Sigma Gamma students, part of the community health honor society,” she said. In her senior year, she was awarded the outstanding community health award, the top honor presented to a student in the program every year. “I got a very kind letter from all my professors. They all made a big impact on me. So after having been honored in such a way, it’s now my lifelong passion to give back to Potsdam."
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”A quote that has guided Thompson's career
One of the most impactful experiences as an undergraduate student was completing two required internships for the community health degree. Her first placement was with the New York State Department of Health in Syracuse, where she first learned about the WIC program—a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children. During her second internship with the WIC program in Watertown, she met with potential clients to evaluate their eligibility for the program and was then offered a full-time job halfway through the internship. When she graduated in May 2015, she started working as a nutritionist for the health department, first in Watertown and then in Utica. She then took the Certified Lactation Consultant (CLC) exam, an important milestone as she continued counseling women in the WIC program about breastfeeding.
After getting her CLC she was offered a position as a breast-feeding coordinator back in Watertown. Over the next five years, she continued to assist women through the WIC program, and after completing 1,000 hours of work as a lactation consultant, she was able to sit for the IBCLC exam—the highest certification level for someone working in the field. “A lot of my college credits were super helpful because I had to take child development, human diseases, etc. at SUNY Potsdam. So, I already had a lot of the sciences required to take the exam through the community health program, plus my 1,000 hours working with local WIC programs,” she said. “When I passed the exam, I was really interested in doing home consultations, which is something that the WIC program doesn’t offer. So that led to my decision to start Bloom Breastfeeding.”
In January of 2022, she launched her new business and now meets with women one-on-one at their homes through Northern New York, a roughly 60-mile coverage radius around Watertown. Her multifaceted approach focuses on education, emotional support, and assessing pain or other issues related to breastfeeding. She discusses the benefits of breast milk over formula with her clients and explains that women are going to have lower risks of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and postpartum depression by breastfeeding. Babies also benefit from increased immunity support to prevent issues like respiratory infections and ear infections.
However, Thompson also tells her clients that she was completely formula fed when she was an infant, which helps to alleviate the pressure some women might be feeling if they’re having problems with breastfeeding. A lot of lactation consultants take a hard-line stance, encouraging mothers to only use breast milk, but Thompson takes a more measured approach. “I don’t believe that it’s all or nothing. One of the things I say is that having a milkshake doesn’t take away the benefits of a salad. A lot of the moms I see are using some supplementation. What I try to do is meet them where they’re at, make sure we can optimize the amount of milk volume and breast milk that they are using, and make sure that’s comfortable, while giving them the healthy understanding that it’s perfectly OK to have a little bit of both,” she said.
On the financial side of her business, Thompson prides herself on making her consultations as affordable as possible. She said that the 2010 Affordable Care Act created an opportunity for lactation services to be covered by most insurance companies. “A lot of people have lactation support covered by their insurance but they don’t know it. Even if you’re out of network, you’re still likely eligible for reimbursement through your insurance company. I do as much as I possibly can to make my services no cost to the family,” she said.
As she continues to travel around Northern New York meeting with new mothers, she thinks back to her time at SUNY Potsdam and a quote that still resonates with her today. “We all had to pick a random quote out of a bag in our internship class, and mine was from Margaret Mead: 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.' I went to a WIC conference a couple of years later and the same thing, I pull a random quote and wouldn’t you guess, I pulled the exact same quote,” she said. “The reason I got into this is that I truly enjoy helping other women succeed. The moms I’ve seen this year have made such an impact on me, and have taught me how to be a better lactation consultant. That’s really why I’m doing this because it’s teaching me how to help others.”
Article and Photos by Jason Hunter