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Interview with Tipper Gallagher, The Boob Geek

Posted on September 25 2016

Tipper Gallagher doesn’t mess around. As a mother of four under nine, her nickname “The Boob Geek” came from her pragmatic approach to the modern understanding of the ancient art of breastfeeding. Tipper began this work in 2010, before the designation of National Breastfeeding Month was a thing, and she was gracious enough to enlighten us with that experience.

So, we’ll start from before your breastfeeding stories were things. What did you think about breastfeeding before you became a first-time mom?

I barely had any experience with human babies before I had my own, but I have always been a bit of a nerd and grew up in a rural area, so I had plenty of exposure to the concept of mammals feeding their young with milk they produced. There was no question in my mind that I’d breastfeed. I came into it with no expectations other than it was what I was going to do.

One thing that’s notable, and hilarious, is that before I had children, I was very convinced that women should cover up while breastfeeding.

And did that change when you became a mom?

Breastfeeding did not come easily for my firstborn and me. We struggled with latch; sore, cracked nipples; jaundice; me wondering if we had thrush or food intolerances; marathon nursing sessions where I doubted my ability to produce milk; mastitis… the works. Since I didn’t have expectations as to how breastfeeding “should” be, I had no idea this wasn’t normal. On the other hand, I had very little support aside from my (so heavy and clunky by today’s standards) laptop and at 2 a.m., so I really had no idea what was normal!

Most of my support came from my husband, who didn’t know any more about breastfeeding than I did, and my mother, who breastfed me for about 6 months. Then there was the internet. In addition to KellyMom (which I still refer to at times!), I had Livejournal, and it was LJ that introduced me to the breast versus formula debate. I had no idea that breastfeeding was so hotly contested and that bottlefeeding was the norm. I made a lot of my own missteps, in terms of offering advice to others—and judgment, too, that unbeknownst to me at the time helped shape my breastfeeding advocacy.

You’re an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. What does that mean to you and how did you earn the IBCLC title?

Pursuing board certification as a lactation consultant was important to me; I wanted to demonstrate to the families I serve that I have the ability to provide a full range of support for their breastfeeding difficulties. Those five letters—IBCLC—demonstrate a lot of time and effort put into learning about lactation. Previously, I was a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), and there was a lot I couldn’t help with and still stay within my scope.

The path to becoming an IBCLC was a long and meandering one for me. Long story short, I took some college classes that I hadn’t taken when pursuing a degree and then attended a pathway 2 program through the University of California—San Diego Extension for 9 months while completing an internship at Hennepin County Medical Center. After all that, I was eligible to take the IBCLC Board Exam.

You offer prenatal lactation consultations, postpartum visits and breastfeeding classes. Which is your favorite type of visit and why?

This is like asking me to pick a favorite child! I love each of them for different reasons. My favorite part of any of them is whenever someone has an “a-ha!” moment. It could be that we’ve adjusted positioning and feeding suddenly stops hurting, which is more of an, “A-ha! So this is what it’s supposed to feel like.” In prenatal visits and classes, especially with parents who have already had a child, those moments are often, “A-ha! That explains it!”

What is your most universal truth when it comes to breastfeeding?

What drives me is the truth that our breastfeeding experiences matter. The same way we’ll never forget our births and will tell our birth stories until we’re old and grey, we’ll remember what it was like to breastfeed our babies. When we do this, we’re not only reliving the experience ourselves, but we’re passing along the experience to others. Feeling confident and empowered, even if things don’t go as planned, has a ripple effect through generations.

You feature a calendar on your site that lists Free Breastfeeding Support classes locally. Why do you think that is important?

Many, many breastfeeding “problems” aren’t problems at all, and could be solved if everyone knew a bit more about breastfeeding babies, what is normal, and what isn’t. You don’t always need a lactation consultant, but all of the groups on the site are facilitated by someone trained in breastfeeding support, and in the event you need support beyond what the group can provide, they can refer you to the right people. Plus, it’s a great way to make friends!

Who is your support system?

My husband is my biggest cheerleader and supporter. He rolls with the last-minute demands that my job sometimes entails and helps keep my bucket filled so I can care for others. My mom and her partner are also a huge support when it comes to childcare in a pinch. I also have a wide network of professional colleagues both locally and beyond whom I can turn to for when I need to mull over ideas. And I have a lovely best friend, who is good for all of the things best friends are good for!

In addition to the many families you help through your work, what organizations do you support in your community?

A few organizations get the gift of my time. I present at Parent Topic Nights, do behind-the-scenes web and social media work, and serve on the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force for the Childbirth Collective. I have also started to work on the Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition website. On a national level, I work with the Best for Babes Foundation on web and social media projects. It’s been amazing to me how much education and encouragement social media can give to people.

A few other local organizations I love are:

  • Pregnancy and Postpartum Support Minnesota, which does invaluable work connecting people to resources that understand perinatal mental health.
  • Babies Need Boxes, which provides supplies and education to families in need.
  • The Queer Birth Project provides trainings for doulas, childbirth educators, and health care providers on LGBTQ cultural competency, as well as facilitating groups for queer-identified parents.  

If you're in the Twin Cities, or the surrounding area, try to catch The Boob Geek at one of many appearances year-round (her calendar is here). Or follow TIpper on Facebook or Twitter @theboobgeek.

Loads of Thanks to Tipper Gallagher for sharing and for her service to moms who need guidance navigating lactation, breastfeeding, and postpartum support.

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