HILTON HEAD HOSPITAL LACTATION CONSULTANT JEAN MAGARELLI OFFERS PERSONALIZED SUPPORT FOR NEW MOTHERS.
LIKE MOST PARENTS, JEAN MAGARELLI COUNTS THE MOMENT HER FIRST CHILD WAS BORN AS A TURNING POINT IN HER LIFE. UNLIKE MANY, THOUGH, IT WASN’T JUST HER PRIVATE LIFE THAT CHANGED; IT WAS HER ENTIRE CAREER.
Magarelli was a school nurse at the time, but her decision to breastfeed her baby brought with it a new passion that became her life’s work: Helping other moms do the same.
“It was very slow going,” Magarelli said of her endeavor to breastfeed both of her children, who were born 13 months apart. “Nobody helped me. My latch wasn’t great, and I can remember my toes curling, it hurt so bad. But I stuck with it, and it got better; I really enjoyed it.”
While she enjoyed the bonding of breastfeeding, she saw other women struggle, and often give up, when they didn’t get the support they needed.
“I wish it was easy and just a completely natural situation, but unfortunately it really isn’t,” she said of breastfeeding. “There are so many things that play into making it successful.”
So the registered nurse became a board-certified lactation consultant, and for the past 25 years she has been one of the biggest factors in making breastfeeding a successful venture for the new moms she sees.
“Jean really encourages us. That’s her biggest thing,” said Elizabeth Hey, who has attended Magarelli’s weekly lactation support group at Hilton Head Hospital for more than a year. “I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone in their work environment who’s so obviously happy at what they do.”
Hey and her husband first met Magarelli when she taught their Lamaze class at the hospital, where Magarelli works.
“She was just amazing,” the Hilton Head mom said. “All of the women in our class wanted a natural birth, so Jean brought in a yoga instructor to teach us things, positions we could do to help (with labor).”
Hey felt that same personalized support over and over again in the months after her son, Warner, was born.
“I struggled a little bit … in the hospital, and Jean was on vacation when I delivered,” Hey said. “But I went to her first support group meeting, and honestly I’ve told her so many times that without the support group, I don’t think we would have made it to (breastfeed for) a year.”
At the free weekly meetings (open to all breastfeeding women, not just those who delivered at Hilton Head Hospital), Magarelli doles out attention and encouragement to frazzled mothers who are trying so hard on very little sleep, and sometimes without the right kind of support at home.
“Moms get frustrated, and dads too. They see what’s happening. And I think it’s easy for (fathers) to say, ‘You know what, we’ve got formula right here. Let’s just give him a little formula. That way the baby’s not going to be crying, and you’re not going to be in pain,’” Magarelli said. She knows what it’s like to come up against such wellintentioned, though perhaps misguided, support.
“I can remember my pediatrician saying to me, ‘Why are you breastfeeding, Jean? We have formula now.’ But I just had this overwhelming feeling that I wanted to breastfeed. It was just a desire that I had.”
More than helping a woman get her baby positioned comfortably and latching correctly, Magarelli’s job is to make sure every mother knows she’s doing great, even if she’s struggling.
“I think as women we do a number on ourselves. We want everything to be perfect and right and everything has to fall into place, and when it doesn’t, it’s difficult for us,” Magarelli said. “I say to moms, ‘Whatever you can do is a gift you’re giving yourself, and a gift you’re giving your baby.’”
Elaine Hastings, the hospital’s chief nursing officer and Magarelli’s direct supervisor, says Magarelli’s gentle encouragement toward every mom is what makes the biggest difference.
“(Jean) is a joy and light and the more you get to know her, the more you see it,” Hastings said. “Everyone is treated like they are the No. 1 person in her life.”
Hastings said Magarelli’s effort goes above and beyond. Besides the support group and prenatal classes, Magarelli makes rounds through the maternity ward to make sure things are going well for new moms. She makes house calls if there’s a problem after mom and baby have been discharged. And she supplies mothers with nursing bras, breast pumps and other essentials through her small store, Expressly Yours, at the hospital.
Hey has taken advantage of all of that, and it’s made a big difference in her life, and – though he doesn’t know it – in Warner’s life, too.
“We call her Auntie Jean now, because she’s a part of the family,” Hey said. “She’s a lot more patient than a lot of family members, and a lot more understanding.”