A free clinic for moms & its champion

Lydia Boyd holding a photo of her baby

Twenty-six years ago, Lydia Boyd had her son prematurely. He was born at just 28 weeks. In the first few days of motherhood, she experienced the usual stresses around becoming a new mom. Those stresses were compounded by her son’s early birth, but there was something else she hadn’t anticipated: An almost complete lack of support or information about breastfeeding from hospital staff.

“My doctors never talked to me about breastfeeding, not one time,” Lydia says. A nurse came by to drop off a breast pump, leaving before plugging the machine in—and leaving Lydia with many unanswered questions. She struggled to piece together any information she could about breastfeeding, eventually finding a book in the hospital gift store about a mother’s journey with breastfeeding her premature baby. It became Lydia’s sole guide as she embarked on her journey as a new mother.

At the time of her son’s birth, Lydia worked in corporate IT, making a good living. But the experience of having embarked on the journey of breastfeeding alone, without support or resources, left her wondering why there weren’t more resources for women around something so important. She began gaining qualifications that allowed her to work as a lactation educator, eventually gaining certification at the highest level, as an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant—the gold standard of lactation education.

Today, Lydia Boyd is the lactation educator in MLK Community Healthcare’s dedicated outpatient lactation clinic. The clinic provides free breastfeeding support to mothers, regardless of their insurance status—and regardless of their patient status. It’s for all mothers, no matter where they delivered. And it’s the only one of its kind in South LA.

By the time you’re coming to see me...you might be feeling like a failure. But when you have someone on your side, who understands your struggle, it makes it so much better.

Lydia Boyd

The benefits of breastfeeding are well-documented. Research has shown that breastfed babies have stronger immune systems and are at lower risk for illnesses such as asthma and type 1 diabetes—conditions particularly prevalent in our community. Mothers who breastfeed are also at reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Yet in communities like South LA, there can be many barriers to breastfeeding. Hiring private doulas and lactation consultants can be expensive and out of reach for families. And many moms are forced to return to work shortly after childbirth, making breastfeeding difficult.  

MLKCH opened its free lactation clinic in 2022. The effort, spearheaded by pediatric specialist Dr. Grace Deukmedjian, came out of a recognition that Black and Hispanic mothers have some of the lowest reported rates of exclusive breastfeeding in LA County. MLKCH’s pioneering model means that mothers now have a dedicated resource and source of support to turn to.

Lydia Boyd holding a prop baby in her lap in front of her desk

Lydia provides new mothers with one-on-one consultations, creating an opportunity to discuss challenges, answer questions, and connect mothers to support groups or other resources. Follow-up visits—sometimes including Dr. Samantha Wong, the clinic’s pediatrician, for infant wellness—continue to support mothers throughout their breastfeeding journeys. And in cases where exclusive breastfeeding is not the best option, Lydia works with families to come up with plans that prioritize breastfeeding while allowing for other solutions.

Some of the support she provides is physiological—providing anatomy exams to determine the source of latching problems, for example—but other times, the connection is more emotional.

“By the time you’re coming to see me,” she says, “you might be feeling like a failure. But when you have someone on your side, who understands your struggle, it makes it so much better.”

Her work aligns with some of MLKCH’s ambitious goals around maternity care. MLK Community Hospital recently received the “Baby-Friendly” designation, whose standards are established by the World Health Organization, and is recognized for its low C-section rates by the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative. In the near future, MLKCH plans to provide pre-natal services led by nurse midwives, including monthly, free prenatal education classes. Lactation education will be a part of those services, helping to address breastfeeding concerns and questions before the baby arrives, so that mothers can feel prepared. A generous $150,000 gift from Cedars-Sinai is launching these efforts.

For Lydia, the journey that began 26 years ago with the birth of her son remains her passion and her life’s purpose. David has grown up now and is one of her biggest fans. “He’ll meet people and say, ‘Oh you’re breastfeeding? If you need help with that, you can go see my mom.’

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