Helping Healthcare Professionals Support Their Patients in the Most Integral Way. A Conversation With Mariana Bigio, Founder of Mamalactea
Mariana is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant. When she had her first boy, she realized that breastfeeding is a choice, but a “real choice” is only possible when you understand your alternatives.
She believes every woman should experience the joy of breastfeeding, as much as every baby should receive the benefits of its own mother’s milk. Her goal is to empower families to make the best educated-choice for them and their babies.
Q: For those in our audience not familiar with Mamalactea, can you share with us your story how it started and where you're at today?
MB: Mamalactea is the name I chose for my project. I'm an IBCLC, which stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. My journey as a Lactation Consultant started when I had my first child, Eyal. Someone told me once: "You find the true sense to your life when you have kids." I never imagine it could be so literal … but I found my true self when I became a mom.
I was born and raised in Venezuela, where I studied Law. When I got married, my husband and I decided to move to Israel. There, I landed in the university where I did my M.A. in Conflict Resolution and Diplomacy. After that, I got certified as a Mediator. During my years there, I worked mostly in the education field, and my main topic was the Middle Eastern Conflict. I'm passionate about history, but there's something about Israeli history that you can breathe in the air.
When my son was born, we decided to move to the U.S. because of my husband's work. When we arrived in Miami, my son was only four months old. I couldn't work legally, so I was looking for a plan. I was breastfeeding at that time, and I was very interested in learning about the wonders of breast milk. I decided to do a course to become a breastfeeding counselor. I thought about that more as a hobby, so I found a program at the Childbirth and Postpartum Association CAPPA. It was a program that I could do mostly at my own pace, but one of the requirements was to observe several breastfeeding support group meetings.
I started to attend different groups until I landed at the Memorial Regional Hospital. There, I met the fantastic lactation consultants from the Lactation Center. I learned about the path to becoming an IBCLC, which was to obtain the certification to be able to do one-on-one consultations. But I needed to meet several requirements, including mentorship and complete 500 hours of clinical training. We were not talking about a hobby anymore -that was pretty much a carrier. They offered to mentor me at the hospital, and I started to work at the maternity unit, shadowing at the beginning, but soon I was able to do lots of hands-on.
I can't explain it, but the first day I entered the hospital, I knew I had found something special. I simply fell in love with this profession. I love to be close to babies and witness that first latch. I learned so much in those years at the hospital; I saw a variety of cases that I could never imagine. But it wasn't only the medical knowledge; my education and negotiation background gave me many skills to be a better professional. Again, in order to obtain my certification, I went back to school to take college credits in medical areas. It took me four years to finally get my Board certification. A new carrier path, my third, and the one I cherish the most.
By the time I became an official IBCLC, I had a better idea of what I wanted. As much as I loved hospital work, I knew that the best way to help mommies, was giving them one-on-one time. So, I started my private practice.
So, here I am! I currently do private lactation visits, teach prenatal breastfeeding classes for parents, and run a support group. I recently joined a pediatric practice to include lactation services, which here in Florida is not common to find. But I'm so excited to join efforts with healthcare providers that understand the importance of breastfeeding. One step forward to my dream.
Q: Where did the name Mamalactea come from?
MB: A close friend of mine used to call me "Mama Teta" (for boob, in Spanish.) He was joking because I was constantly breastfeeding my sons everywhere. When I finally got certified, I knew I needed a name, as my dream was to create a team. I thought about different names, but then I remembered my friend's joke, which was really what defines me! "Lactea" in Spanish refers to milk, and also points out to the "Milky Way" ("Via Lactea"), which brings the idea of universality, and a worldwide common language among women.
Q: What are some standard questions you get asked when someone calls about your service?
MB: Most families call me when they're facing a challenge. It is more of them telling me their stories than asking questions. But I think it is important to listen to them. These families are in a vulnerable time of their lives, and they must be treated with compassion. I also like to take the time to listen, because every detail is relevant for how I approach the case.
Q: Where do you see your business five years from now?
MB: My dream is to create a lactation clinic with multiple disciplines, all working together to offer patients an integral service. The breastfeeding journey is quite long, and during that time, families go through many different stages that are somehow connected. I imagine a team of lactation consultants, dieticians, pediatricians, chiropractors, tongue-tied specialists, speech therapists, sleep coaches, mental health therapists, and occupational therapists, all working together for the same goal: guiding families towards a positive and meaningful breastfeeding experience.
Q: After high school, where did you feel your career path would take you?
MB: When I graduated from high school, the typical question was: "How do you picture yourself in 5 years?" That question stressed me out; I was only 17; I couldn't possibly know what I wanted for the rest of my life. I just wanted to learn exciting things, and travel, and meet people. I never thought so much about the future, not even when I was at my graduate studies. But today, I can say that maybe it was because I wasn't in the right field.
Q: What was your first job? And how did it shape or impact you?
MB: My first job was as an intern at a law firm, while I was still studying. The work was hard; I had to go every day to the courts. The Courts in Caracas are located in the center of the city, which is not a pleasant place. I had to climb fourteen floors and check 40-50 files and make copies (no digital files at that time.) We used to joke saying: "interns are not people." It was tough work but taught me the discipline of working hard for something I wanted. After I graduated, I got a job at the Firm.
Sometimes we don't like the work we do, but if we do it with purpose, it always makes sense. I don't regret any job or path I went through, because they took me exactly where I am. I don't wish for more, but I work hard for my dreams.
Q: How do you maintain a healthy work life balance?
MB: I struggle with that every day. I'm with my children in the afternoons but work on the weekends. It's not easy when you're the owner of your business, and everything is on you. But the reason I chose that is because I wanted to be there for my kids. At the same time, my project is also my baby, and that's what makes me feel alive.
Q: What's one lesson you've learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
MB: Find whatever makes your ideas flow, and stick to it. It may take a while but is 100% worth it.
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
MB: I have many women I admire. Lately, I've been following the work of Mayim Bialik. She's intelligent, and humble, and authentic, and she uses her fame to advocate for women's rights. And she's a great actress too!
Four Things About Mariana
1. What's your favorite holiday?
I'm Jewish, so my favorite holiday would be Hanukkah. I love everything about it. The cool weather, the food, the stories, the songs, and I love my children's excitement every night after lighting the candles, we dance, and receive some treats.
2. If you were a superhero, what would your special powers be?
After watching every Marvel and Justice League movie, I would definitely go for the power of healing.
3. What app can't you live without?
4. What would you do if you won the lottery?
You know, my grandma asks me to buy the Powerball for her every six months to play one game per week. She's been playing it since I can remember. But the funny thing is that every single time, she makes a list of how she would share the money, among the whole family, friends, friends of friends, institutions, and so on. She has so many notebooks with lists, and we always joke about it. If you ask me about what I would do if I win the lottery, I can't think of a better way.