In her 15 years as a lactation consultant, Jennifer Riley, MSN, RN, IBCLC, has initiated, led and participated in numerous quality improvement projects, volunteer opportunities and innovative efforts to enhance lactation support services, education, advocacy and the care of mothers, babies and families.
Her inspiration to do this work comes from the patients she cares for each day.
“Teaching lactation can be routine, sometimes repetitive, sometimes simple and sometimes complex, but it is always beautiful, even when it is hard,” Riley shared. “I am amazed by the families that I meet and the simple beauty that they briefly share with me during what can be such a vulnerable time. Our words matter to them, our support can mean the world and I’m so honored to work beside them.”
Riley’s influence, support and knowledge are shared well beyond the Brigham in her volunteer role as president of the Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast.
For these reasons, Riley was selected as this year’s Kurlat Essence of Nursing Award recipient — the highest honor presented to clinical nurses at the Brigham. The award is named in honor of the late Saul Kurlat, who supported the award in perpetuity in acknowledgement of the care that his late wife received from Brigham nurses.
“I know no one more committed to and passionate about the advancement of nursing practice, breastfeeding support, social justice and the protection of women’s and newborns’ health,” wrote Susan Bryant, MSN, RN, IBCLC, lactation consultant, in a letter of support for Riley’s nomination. “Jen works tirelessly to promote breastfeeding and women’s and newborns’ health, both at the Brigham and as a volunteer at the Mother’s Milk Bank.”
Improving Access to Lactation Services
Riley is dedicated to improving access to lactation services, as well as donor milk for families who wish to use it.
At the Brigham, these efforts have included partnering with Bryant and the former associate chief nursing officer for the Connors Center for Women and Newborns to write and submit a nurse-driven plan to develop an Outpatient Breastfeeding Center at the Brigham. After a successful pilot in 2019, the center has expanded to include both virtual and in-person visits with lactation consultants.
She also introduced the Mamava, a private breastfeeding pod in the lobby of the Connors Center that enables mothers to pump or nurse while at work or visiting the hospital.
In addition, Riley championed and maintained the pasteurized human donor milk program for postpartum families, including developing a nurse-driven protocol for ordering and dispensing the milk on postpartum units.
“Jen is best known for her tireless efforts to refine our use of and access to donor milk in the hospital setting with our term and near-term infants,” wrote Rosemary McKitrick, BA, RN, Med, IBCLC, HNBC, a lactation consultant who has worked with Riley for eight years.
Riley was also the first author of a study comparing breastfeeding outcomes in healthy mother-infant dyads following in-hospital supplementation with donor milk versus infant formula.
According to her nominators, Riley’s leadership and commitment to delivering the highest-quality, evidence-based care has contributed to many improvement initiatives.
“Jen is a natural leader; she has a vision of excellence for the lactation department and the scientific and experiential knowledge to know it can happen,” said Mimi Pomerleau, DNP, MPH, RNC, nursing director.
Riley played an essential role in developing and providing staff education for the Brigham’s Baby Friendly Hospital designation in 2019.
“Jen was extremely instrumental in the strenuous five-year journey to earn this prestigious designation, serving on the task force, providing QI audits and educating RNs, providers and patients,” wrote Bryant. “She continues to strive to maintain the Baby Friendly Hospital standards, assisting in the annual QI audits and preparing for our re-assessment in 2024.”
Riley is often the first to volunteer to precept new lactation consultants and mentor MSN students, noted Bryant.
Riley earned her MSN from Framingham State University, her BSN from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and her BA from Skidmore College.
She has served on the board of directors for Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast since 2017. She is a member of the Breastfeeding Equity Taskforce, the Massachusetts Baby-Friendly Collaborative and the Magnet writers’ team at the Brigham.
More About Jen:
Family: husband Kasey, a music teacher, son Phillip 18, a UMass Amherst student, and son Alexander, 16
When she felt the calling to nursing: I realized that I wanted to go into nursing after working in the field of women’s reproductive justice as a clinic worker and volunteer. I saw it as a chance to make a difference on the frontlines of health care.
Where you’ll find her when she’s not at the Brigham: Spending time with my friends and family in the outdoors and listening to political podcasts!
Reaction to learning she is the Essence of Nursing Award recipient: “I was so touched and truly stunned when I learned that I had won the Essence of Nursing Award. Having met so many amazing nurses throughout the hospital and witnessed their amazing work while writing Magnet examples for our redesignation, I am humbled to be chosen for this recognition.”