The Lactation Pharmacist

The Lactation Pharmacist

By Blake Ursch

Leslie Southard, PharmD’14, had questions. Months after giving birth to her daughter, Carmen, in 2016, Southard developed shingles on her rib cage. The painful rash is an ordeal for anyone, but as a new mother, Southard was especially concerned.

“I was freaking out because I had no idea if I could breastfeed. I had no idea if the medication I was taking was safe,” she says. “Here I am, a pharmacist, and I can’t even tell if my medication is safe and whether it will affect my milk supply.”

So she went looking for answers. And then some.

Today, the Omaha-based Southard has become a resource for breastfeeding mothers around the world as The Lactation Pharmacist. On her website (thelactationpharmacist.com), the Creighton graduate and certified lactation counselor reviews various medications for their effects on lactation and offers virtual consultations to women with questions.  

“There’s been a high demand for it all,” says Southard, who works full-time as a pharmacist at CVS. “I get questions from everywhere. From just regular lactating individuals to doctors to dentists. They all say there’s a need for this. They’re thankful there’s someone out there trying to put out the right information.”

Southard was initially drawn to pharmacy as a way to help others. She chose Creighton, she says, because several family members attended and spoke highly of the University’s student-centered approach to education.

Though her experience in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions equipped her well for a career in pharmacy, she says, her formal training touched only briefly on how certain medications can affect lactation. Determined to learn all she could, Southard began speaking to experts and seeking out the latest research. She launched her website in January 2019 after realizing that many mothers — and many health professionals themselves — had the same questions she had.

It’s an area that’s particularly of interest these days, as breastfeeding undergoes a revival following a marked decline in the practice after World War II, Southard says. As mothers struggle with the usual day-to-day challenges of lactation, they’re looking for a calm, knowledgeable voice to guide them through, she says.

Southard has since become a lactation counselor, working toward becoming a full-fledged consultant, through the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. She fields questions from women dealing with a range of medical issues, all wondering how various treatments will affect their ability to feed their babies.

One common question she’s received is whether over-the-counter allergy medicine will affect a woman’s ability to produce milk. The answer: It won’t.

Southard is hoping to broaden the reach of The Lactation Pharmacist through online courses for both lactating mothers and medical professionals. Eventually, she hopes to become a national expert in lactation and make life a bit easier for future moms.

“In an ideal world, when I retire, I would love for people to know exactly where to go to get information regarding lactation and medication,” she says.