Toni Howard, RN, has 25 years of experience in helping expectant parents have the best birth experiences possible.
To the families with whom she helps navigate pregnancy, birth and the addition of a new family member, she’s like the new parent whisperer – helping parents confidently welcome and care for their babies.
“The tips about Labor positions and that contractions are intermittent with skills to counter the pain really helped me in Labor.” wrote one new mother about Howard, who both teaches and coordinates childbirth and new parent education classes at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph’s NewLife Center. Another mom commented that she had a better breastfeeding experience by educating herself before delivery and receiving Howard’s help after delivery. Topics include labor and delivery, breastfeeding, post-partum self-care and infant care, massage, safety and CPR, as well as a baby calming technique and boot camp for dads.
Howard particularly likes teaching Breastfeeding and Infant Massage, as they include tips and tricks many expectant parents may not know.
“One of my favorite parts of what I do is seeing the look on parents’ faces when I’ve helped calm their anxiety about what’s going during their pregnancy or with their baby,” she says.
Howard, who joined Ascension Via Christi in 2010, working as an RN Lactation Consultant, and three years later began serving as the coordinator of its childbirth education program. She also was instrumental in helping bring Baby Talk – a state-funded prenatal education program designed to increase the number of healthy newborns and babies in the Wichita area – to the NewLife Center.
“Toni has worked diligently to reach out to patients and physicians regarding prenatal, childbirth and lactation courses,” says Deb Swift, a fellow lactation consultant and childbirth educator. “Her leadership with Baby Talk is allowing many families who would not be able to afford classes get the education that each one deserves and needs.”
Howard also participated in bringing the Baby Friendly designation to Ascension Via Christi.
“Something I hope to do as an educator is to empower women to have the best birth possible,” says Howard, who believes that every mother should have a voice in her birth experience.
“I am thankful for in my position is the ability to impact women’s birth outcomes,” says Howard. “It is so gratifying when women come back to the breastfeeding clinic and talk to me about how their experiences were better because of childbirth education classes.”
As part of her education mission, Howard includes a healthy dose of reality that contradicts what most people see in the media. For example, when planning out a birth, many expectant parents do not realize that planning for a natural childbirth can take several weeks.
“When parents watch shows on TLC about childbirth, they think they can mimic what they see in a 30-minute episode,” says Howard. “What they don’t realize is that they have already missed an opportunity to educate themselves for a better labor and delivery experience.”
In fact, Howard recommends that moms stay comfortable for as long as possible once they begin going into labor. This reduces stress and anxiety that can come from being in an unfamiliar environment, like the hospital. “If you can labor in the comfort of your own home and come in when contractions are closer to five minutes apart lasting for one minute, it empowers the mom with an active role in her birth plan,” says Howard.
Howard gets to meet parents of all demographics, backgrounds and incomes in her role as an educator and sees firsthand how difficult it can be for parents who have to choose between buying essentials or paying for childbirth education and parenting classes.
"How do parents afford choosing between education and baby equipment or the medical cost?” says Howard. Thanks to a grant from Children's Miracle Network Hospitals at Ascension Via Christi, the classes will be available as of July 1 at no cost to parents, eliminating the need to make such a choice.
“This will help ensure that every parent has the opportunity to become educated,” says Howard, who is thankful and excited to see what this will mean to expectant moms, dads and their growing babies.
“Just being able to make a difference for new parents touches my heart,” says Howard.
To find out more about the NewLife Center and classes, go to viachristi.org/newlife or call 316-689-5485.