27 JunThe Accidental Lactation Teacher – From housewife/mother to airline secretary, to student to nurse to practitoner to teacher Part Three


Right after graduation in 1973, my children’s pediatrician, Paul Fleiss, offered me what he called “a mother’s job.”  I stared at him baffled. “A mother’s job” he explained was an RN in his office that arrives after her kids leave for school and gets home before they arrive back home.  No nights, no weekends and the same hospital pay.   As if to make sure I took the job, just as this was offered, ……..my husband lost another job.  So off I went to work as a nurse.

After a year in his pediatric office, Dr. Fleiss said, “I am wasting your talent here.  You need to go back to school and be a nurse practitioner.”      “BACK TO SCHOOL!!”  I thought, no way!!   He wrote out a check and said, “Go to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) or you’re fired.”  Talk about tough love!

And so the thoughts started up again.  UCLA, UCLA, UCLA……..I surrendered again but faster this time, applied and was accepted into the next class.  I was probably accepted because I was one of the few applicants who applied with a preceptor all arranged!  Doing the program along with everything else… being a wife, mother and La Leche League (LLL) leader was hard.  I memorized as I traveled on the freeway to the Harbor UCLA campus, 40 minutes each way.  I was so absorbed in memorizing that I kept getting speeding tickets!   Finding more skillful ways around my learning disorder, I ended the course with an overall 92. I took the very first Pediatric Nurse Practitioner board certification exam ever offered in the nation and passed.

Dr. Fleiss’ practice was an eclectic mix of Hollywood at the time:  lower socioeconomic families, the MO Town record crowd and a few celebrities as well.  Dr. Fleiss put me through my paces for every baby/child exam I presented to him and had me hit the books that night for every diagnosis we made that had not come up before.  My breastfeeding zeal ran right into the “non-La Leche League” families who were semi-committed to breastfeeding.  He taught me “A little breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding at all.”   I developed the importance of the baby/child while positively reinforcing the parent’s growth in discovering that child of theirs under Dr. Fleiss’ example. These  stories deserve their own post and I will do that later.

I worked for Dr. Fleiss for a few years as a nurse practitioner in his Hollywood practice until I was offered a job in 1975 doing the pediatric well child care in a birth center in Culver City, California with Dr. Victor Berman.    Dr. Berman’s practice was a more middle class group of families wanting a natural childbirth and definitely breastfeeding. In those two beginning practices I got to see breastfeeding instead of only handling breastfeeding concerns over the phone as I often did with LLL moms.  I discovered that women who were not sore held their babies differently than those who did have sore nipples.

I began to share what I learned with new mothers and it worked to solve their problems!  I even presented the concept at a pediatric congress in Israel in 1980 which led to my first publication (and the Breastfeeding Techniques That Work! handout).  Accepting a job closer to home in 1979, I joined Dr. Rick Johnson’s practice in Pasadena, California. Dr. Dave Tappan and Dr. Bill Sears joined us over time.  I was independently seeing 500 mostly middle class families within that collaborative pediatric practice for the next ten years.  It was truly a physician role.  As a pediatric nurse practitioner, I finally came close to the dreamed of role of the physician at last. Breastfeeding evaluation was naturally a part of every well child visit. I resigned as a La Leche League Leader after 20 years in 1983.

At that time my husband left our family and being a single mom, I was grateful to accept a position In Santa Monica, California with Drs. Gurfied. Wasson, Varga, & Tardio at Tenth Street Pediatrics in 1989. That practice was challenging in dealing with an entirely different socio-economic patient population.  While explaining to one new mom about how easy it was to breastfeed because you could take your baby anywhere.  She replied, “What do you think I have a maid for?”   I adapted to this new group of patients but found myself becoming more of an advocate for the baby. Inner city and middle class moms were so different in how they viewed their role and the baby.  Over time the moms in this practice began to proudly tell me they were “a hands-on mom” as compared to some of their friends. Cool. Our practice became “the breastfeeding place” and I was there for 17 years.

One Response to “The Accidental Lactation Teacher – From housewife/mother to airline secretary, to student to nurse to practitoner to teacher Part Three”

  1. Chris Berning says:

    I am enjoying reading this history of your past, as well as “how things used to be” Kittie. Thanks so much. I last saw you way back in 1990? sometime when you taught the UCLA CLE program, or as so many of us referred to it, “Kittie Frantz’s class.” I learned so much from that. 🙂

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