How we developed the Lact-Aid Nursing Trainer and established a family-owned business that has lasted over 40 years........
by Jimmie Lynne Avery
As a girl of 11, I had watched my cousin nurse her first baby and was deeply moved by it. To me, it was the most beautiful thing I had ever witnessed. I decided then that I would have that same kind of relationship with babies I would have someday. In my teens, the natural childbirth movement was getting started, and I was very impressed with the idea. I recall seeing Rhonda Hartman, on television demonstrating exercises and describing the Bradley Method of Husband Coached Childbirth. I hadn't even begun dating yet, but I knew that was what I wanted to experience.
I met my husband, John R. Avery, in 1960. I was 16 and he was 15. We wed five years later and we were anxious to start a family. We were typical of many young couples then, excited about experiencing natural childbirth and breastfeeding. We were especially interested "bonding" with our babies, though we didn't have that lovely word in those days to describe it. However, after a time, we realized that our family would have to be built through adoption. We had no concerns about being able to love our adopted children. My greatest disappointment was not being unable to experience pregnancy and birth. It was realizing that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed.
While waiting to adopt, I visited a dear friend. As I watched Doris breastfeeding her newborn, I told her how I envied her. She told me about "induced lactation" or "relactation". She explained that a nurse had mentioned it to her. She urged me to ask my doctor about it, as maybe I could nurse our adopted baby. I don't know who was more surprised, me, or my doctor, when a few days later I told him that I had an idea he might think is crazy ... I said that I wanted to try nursing an adopted baby.
By coincidence, my doctor heard about relactation just two weeks earlier from a colleague from China. Thinking his friend was joking, he did a medical literature search to prove it was impossible to induce lactation and was surprised by his findings. So, he was delighted with the chance to experiment. He told me to use his name at the medical library to learn what I could. He also gave me a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League. He said the book had a lot of good information, but warned me not to contact them because they were too "fanatical". I couldn't wait to get home to read the book and call La Leche League! (Who would have guessed that I would be the first "never pregnant", adoptive nursing woman certified to be a La Leche Leader and a member of La Leche League's Medical Speakers Committee for Colorado? I was a LLL Leader in Colorado for nine years.)
|An Invention is Born.
I contacted Karen, a La Leche Leader in my area for support and information. One suggestion for getting a baby to suckle the breast, and hopefully stimulate lactation, was to flavor the breast nipple by dribbling formula on it with a medicine dropper. A friend let me try it with her baby who immediately went for the dropper! I was very discouraged. My husband, John, came up with a way to provide a continuous flow while the baby suckled the breast nipple. He believed that this approach would make it possible to establish a nursing relationship, even if I was unable to lactate. This possibility was exciting, for after all, it was the nurturing aspects of breastfeeding that we were wanting our babies to enjoy.
After some experimenting, John had invented a breastfeeding supplementer. Our first baby boy, Chris, arrived at the age of four weeks, in July of 1969. He took to nursing immediately. I did lactate, and by the time he was four months old, I was providing about 75% of his nutrition as breast milk. By five months he was also taking some solids, and by six months, he graduated from the supplementer. From then on, his nutrition included breastfeeding, solid foods, and juice or milk by cup. He nursed until he weaned himself.
|The phone calls and research begin...
When our son was about ten months old, I began receiving phone calls and letters from women all over the USA who "heard from a friend" about my experience. Some had weaned early, and either missed the closeness of breastfeeding, or their babies were not thriving well on formula alone. Could our method help them resume breastfeeding? Some had premature babies, but had been unable to maintain an adequate milk supply by breast pumping and nursing. Could our method help?
This made us realize that perhaps our experience could help mothers to overcome all kinds of breastfeeding problems, that might otherwise lead to untimely weaning, or prevent them from trying to breastfeed. The fact that I was able to nurse our baby was so special and wonderful, it seemed tragic that other mothers were missing out on the opportunity to nurse theirs. So, I hit the medical library stacks in earnest and my husband, John, tacked the engineering details. This was the beginning of a three-year period of literature search, and developing and testing a research model nursing supplementer. Several hundred mothers and babies participated in our testing. (These pilot studies were the basis for the subsequent relactation studies conducted by Kathleen Auerbach, PhD., and myself in 1978.)
During my research, I was impressed with the work of Dr. Rene Spitz, a psychiatrist recognized for his research on infant development and maternal behavior. I gathered up my courage and wrote him. He was so intrigued with my situation and research efforts that he invited me to meet him. He and several colleagues at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, interviewed us and gave Chris developmental tests. I showed them my husband's ingenious invention, and although Chris no longer used the supplementer, he cooperated to demonstrate nursing with it. He turned loose to look at them and grin, then went right back to nursing with gusto ... much to their enthusiastic delight! The video tape of our interview is on file at the Rene Spitz Library. Our second adopted baby boy, Chuck, arrived in October, 1971. He was two weeks old and took right to nursing. Again, I was able to lactate and we had a child-led weaning experience.
|Launching an unusual product!
Before we could actually launch Lact-Aid System there were a lot of things to do. We had some frustrating and also some extremely funny experiences along the way in those early days. Bankers laughed at us when we asked for a loan. Undaunted, we took out a loan on a life insurance policy and started the ball rolling ... engineering drawings and specifications, manufacturing molds, machinery, patents and trademarks, all kinds of legal and accounting details and so on.
Our funniest experience was with the ad agency we hired to help us develop our instructions and marketing materials. At our first meeting, we explained that one of their clients, a friend of ours, had referred us. We described John's invention and our goals. They told us to develop a brand name, create names for all the parts, write instructions for care and use, and gather some information about the market we wanted to reach, then come back.
When we showed up a few days later, they were actually surprised! They had believed the whole thing was a practical joke concocted by their client and that we were hired actors! They described how they had laughed and joked all afternoon after our first meeting, and had fun making up crazy names for our gadget. (Use your imagination!) Once they realized we were absolutely genuine, they did a wonderful job of helping us launch our Lact-Aid nursing supplementer...the rest is history.
Finally, in September of 1971, we formed J.J. Avery, Inc., (a "J" for my husband, John and a "J" for me, Jimmie Lynne).Karen Pryor was the first author to mention Lact-Aid System in her book, Nursing Your Baby. Ever since then, numerous authors have been describing and recommending it in books, articles, and other media dealing with breastfeeding and maternal/infant health topics. Visit our online Bibliography page for more details! In 1983, we sold the contract design and manufacturing portion of J.J. Avery, Inc. to a Tennessee plastics firm. However, we retained ownership of our Lact-Aid Division, and moved to Athens, Tennessee. Now, as Lact-Aid International, Inc., we still manufacture our Lact-Aid NursingTrainer System, and enjoy helping mothers and their babies enjoy the benefits of breastfeeding. The addition of our website, has enabled us to continue expanding the services we provide to parents and to the health professionals who care for them.
We always love hearing from people, and I hope you will let us know your thoughts, suggestions and needs.