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Meet Johanna Vandemoortele, IBCLC, RLC of HelpLatch

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johanna Vandemoortele, IBCLC, RLC.

Johanna, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
It was a bit of a winding road. I studied art history and architecture, and worked for many years on curatorial and development projects with different museums and non-profit organizations. I enjoyed what I did, but when I became a mother, something shifted.

My husband and I were prepared for birth, but what came afterwards was a different story.  When my daughter was born, we really struggled in the early days of breastfeeding. She wouldn’t latch for the first weeks…then once we figured that out, she stopped taking a bottle…just in time for my return to work. I then had to navigate new motherhood while leading a team, commuting downtown and pumping (including in bathrooms, glass conference rooms and while driving).

Without the support I received from an amazing lactation consultant leading a breastfeeding support group at UCLA, I would have probably given up. In fact, even after I recovered and found my new normal, I loved learning about breastfeeding so much that I just kept going to that group and then began taking classes on lactation. It was a pretty organic process, and at one point, I realized that I wanted to become a lactation consultant myself.

After a few years of being a student, hundreds of hours of clinical experience at UCLA, and volunteering at Venice Family Clinic, where you can still find me once a week, I’m now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and loving my new career helping new mothers and families through their breastfeeding journeys.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It hasn’t been a smooth road, but I agree with the old adage that most things that are worth it aren’t easy. The biggest challenge was probably changing my career during what was already a very difficult time for me, new parenthood.

At one point, I was still working, taking online classes at night once the kids were sleeping, and nursing both my daughter and her new baby brother. It all must have been too much because I remember landing in the ER with a 104.7 fever and terrible breast tissue infection called mastitis, likely attributable at least in part to the exhaustion and stress I was experiencing. It was around then that I decided to focus only on my new career.

Looking back, however, each struggle was such a moment of growth and learning. As I think about my own journey, I’m so grateful that all these years later, I am now able to help moms, babies and families through these complex struggles and experiences around breastfeeding and new parenthood.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
After becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, I launched my own private practice, HelpLatch. My aim is to support mothers, babies and families through their unique and individual breastfeeding journeys, whatever those might be.

Through HelpLatch, I offer prenatal breastfeeding courses to help prepare families prior to the arrival of their little one(s), as well as postnatal in-home lactation consultations once baby has arrived. While I of course celebrate any mom who is able to breastfeed without any problems, I know that many struggle, just like I did, and I want moms to know that they are not alone.

When I became a new mom, I quickly learned support was key, and I was privileged to have a lot of it. I’m now so proud to be part of LA’s support system for new moms and parents.

One thing that I think sets me apart from others is my own personal story, beyond my breastfeeding and motherhood one. While I now call Los Angeles home, I was born in Kenya and grew up in Ethiopia and Malawi as a kid, later moving to the east coast, where we spent many years before my family moved to Pakistan, and is now spread around the world between London, Belgium, and LA. Having grown up with such an international background and being half Peruvian/half Belgian myself, I speak English, Spanish and Dutch and am so grateful to have gained such a wide perspective on life.

It’s really helped me approach this work, especially in such a beautifully diverse place as Los Angeles, without judgment, and instead with open-mindedness, kindness and compassion. Every family lets me into their homes and lives during a very vulnerable time, and I consider myself lucky to be invited into their worlds to help support them.

What were you like growing up?
At home, I was the goofball of my family, and my husband still thinks I am today. I’ve always loved being in nature, and you’d probably find our family at the beach or camping on the weekends.

When I was 19, I did ‘the Camino’ and walked across Spain by myself. This was a life-changing experience, and I became a bit obsessed with walking thereafter, weaving it into both my undergraduate and Master’s theses, and constantly walking around whatever city I was in. It’s a time when I can reconnect to the earth and myself. It saved me in early motherhood too, and in a way, I think it serves as a good metaphor for my life. As hard as things can get, and as much as they can change, as long as I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’m on my path, my walk.

So again, it was a bit of a winding road professionally, but I’ve really found something I love to do, helping other mothers on their breastfeeding journeys. And while I’m proud of all my academic and professional accomplishments, the award that makes me most proud is still one I received back in high school. It was called the Sheila Kelly Memorial Award, and it was “given to the student whose positive outlook, zest for life and unfailing helpfulness have been an inspiration.” Perhaps if I had professionally embraced those parts of me, characteristics that I’ve always known and loved, maybe I would have come to my new career sooner, but then again, probably not, since my journey to becoming a Lactation Consultant was paved by every step that came before it.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Nicki Sebastian Photography, Aditya Romansa, Eibner Saliba, Jordan Whitt, Kelly Sikkema, Kevin Liang

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