They Call Me Mommy Series - Jules Sherman
How Jules survived a traumatic birth experience and overcame latch challenges to breastfeed her daughter for 14 months. And then used her own experience to invent an innovative product that helps with colostrum collection and feeding: Primo-Lacto.
“What kept me going through the development of Primo-Lacto was remembering my experience. Recalling what I went through and wanting other moms to have a better experience than I did"
Jules lived and worked in a small town in California. At 38, she became pregnant with her daughter. She didn’t have the easiest pregnancy in the world, but she and the baby were healthy and she carried her daughter to full term.
Labor was difficult. After 12 hours of labor, it was clear that her daughter was stuck behind her pelvic bone. The medical team had to intervene. Both Jules and the baby’s health were at risk during the delivery and the baby experienced significant facial bruising. Because of that, she had no sucking reflex and was unable to latch and breastfeed in the first few days after birth.
Jules was exhausted and recovering from significant physical and psychological trauma, but prioritized expressing her colostrum so it could be fed to her daughter.
There wasn’t a full-time lactation consultant on staff in the hospital, so shortly after the birth Jules was shown a dated video on how to express colostrum and was given a urine cup to capture it. “I was like, ‘This is the most disrespectful container you could give me.’ It wasn’t only because of what it was for, but also because it was so big. I was getting drops but felt like I had to fill this huge cup.” Jules later learned that infants only need a few drops of colostrum every few hours and wished that had been made clear to her at the time.
Despite their rough start, Jules and her baby recovered and went home together after three days in the hospital. Jules hired a lactation consultant to help her through the first couple of weeks of breastfeeding. “I would have given up after the first couple of days had I not had her support. I was in so much pain from the delivery, and then there was the sore nipple stuff, and the challenge of just getting used to it all. I would have stopped, had she not helped me through and told me that it was going to be worth it.”
When Jules’ daughter was about four months old, the family moved to northern California so Jules could attend graduate school. She continued breastfeeding and breast pumping through her first year of school. In her graduate school community, she found a new mothers’ group and received support she’d been missing in her previous community. It was in that group that Jules discovered she wasn’t alone in struggling to hand express colostrum for a baby with latch difficulties. “I learned that expressing and capturing colostrum was a problem for many mothers-- a problem waiting to be solved.”
Jules couldn’t stop thinking about the challenge of colostrum collection and went to the university hospital to discuss it with the head neonatologist. Her conversation with him confirmed that there were no solutions designed to address the problem. Nurses and doctors had devised work-arounds, but none of them were easy or intuitive for both the nurses or the moms. “My background is in consumer product design, so working on something like this was is in my blood. If there's a problem, there's got to be a product to fix it!”
For the next five years, Jules drew, prototyped, fundraised, and conducted a clinical trial on what was to become Primo-Lacto, a system designed for colostrum collection in hospitals. “It's really hard to get this kind of product developed because it doesn't make a lot of money, but it’s so important! So who's going to do it? Somebody who's been through it and knows women deserve better.”
Jules first started selling Primo-Lacto to hospitals in 2017, and in 2018, she and Primo-Lacto joined the Lansinoh family. Today Jules teaches design classes and helps graduate students design products that support maternal and infant health. She is a tireless advocate who uses her own experience to improve the birth and breastfeeding experience for other women.
The bottom line: “There's this societal expectation that you're supposed to know what to do just because you’re as a woman. Many aspects of caring for a baby are actually learned behaviors. Breastfeeding requires education, practice, patience, and support.”
Jules’s breastfeeding tricks of the trade:
- Seek support from other moms: “Try to create a community of other mothers going through similar things. Whether it's on social media or in real life, I think peer support is probably one of the most important things you can do for your mental health.”
- A good breast pump makes a big difference: “When I went to graduate school, the pump was my savior. I felt so much better after I pumped between classes. This machine became my best friend because getting the milk out at regular intervals allowed me to avoid pain and clogged ducts. Regular pumping also allowed me to keep production up so that when I was with my baby I could breastfeed her.”
- It’s worth it: “Deciding whether or not to breastfeed is every woman’s choice, and either choice should be respected. For me, breastfeeding was important to experience. Although the process was challenging in many ways, I persisted, and was glad I did. Breastfeeding changed me as a person. The bonding that ensues, and the empowerment I felt being able to feed my daughter was nothing less than remarkable.”