Through her Web site, a St. Petersburg woman offers guidance to nursing moms around the world.
By Lisa Buie, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007
As a mother of three, Rachel Simpson thought she was a pro at breast-feeding.
Then along came Frida.
"I would feed her, and she would choke, cough, gag, spit and gurgle, then leave me with milk spraying everywhere," Simpson recalled. The baby also spit up a "torrent of watery milk" after eating, so much that Simpson was reluctant to leave the house.
Friends suggested possible causes, but none seemed to fit.
The Oxford, England, resident turned to the Internet. A search took her to www.kellymom.com.
She found information on the Web site that diagnosed her problem - too much milk too fast - and advised that she nurse her daughter on the same side a few times before switching.
"Within a couple of days the awful vomiting stopped, and she began to feed more smoothly without choking or gagging," Simpson wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "We were able to be out and about without fear of being drenched or damaging other people's furniture!"
At 11 months, Frida was still thriving on "mummy's milk."
Simpson's story will be familiar to many moms who have faced the challenge of breast-feeding. Those who turn to the Web seeking help often find links to the same place: kellymom.com. Problems with latching? See kellymom. Baby fussy after a feeding? See kellymom. Pain while nursing? See kellymom.
The answers are there, with extensive background information. So who is this all-knowing kellymom, and how did she get to be the breast-feeding guru of the Web?
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Kellymom is 40-year-old Kelly Bonyata of St. Petersburg. Offline, she's a typical mom who lives in a beige, stucco house with her husband and their 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. She does everything with her kids: homeschools them, rides horses with them, takes karate lessons with them.
When locals ask her what she does, she tells them, "I have a Web site that's pretty popular."
That's for sure. The latest figures show 28,500 page views per day. Her forums average 10,000 page views per day. Readers come from 128 countries, according to Bonyata's map.
Bonyata graduated summa cum laude from Mercer University in Macon, Ga., with majors in mathematics and physics. She dreamed of one day earning a doctorate and becoming a college professor.
Things didn't work out that way. Bonyata was doing hazardous waste assessments for a private consulting firm when her daughter, Jordan, was born in 1997. Bonyata planned to take three months of maternity leave. Her co-workers told her she'd never last that long at home.
But six weeks in, she quit the job.
"Everyone was completely flabbergasted," she said. "Being with my daughter was so cool that I wanted to stay with her all the time."
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Bonyata had decided before Jordan was born that she wanted to breast-feed because of the health benefits it offers babies. She wasn't sure for how long, perhaps six months. A sister who nursed for a few months had given her the book So That's What They're For.
Bonyata was lucky. For her, nursing came easily. When Jordan turned 6 months old, she was still going. Jordan nursed until she was 4, including while Bonyata was pregnant with Alex. The site has a section on tandem nursing. As for Alex, Bonyata won't say when he weaned. "I don't want to get hate mail."
Bonyata frequented parenting message boards and found herself answering a lot of moms' questions. At first, she relied on research and her experience. Just before Jordan turned 1, she began training as a leader for La Leche League, a nonprofit group that supports breast-feeding. At that point, she set up kellymom.com so those seeking help could have one-stop shopping from a reliable source. Her pet peeve, she says, is inaccurate information.
Her husband, Granville, who owns a computer consulting company, helped her come up with a name for the site.
Bonyata eventually became an international board-certified lactation consultant. She now is a member of the state and international lactation consultants' associations. In addition to maintaining the Web site, she trains other lactation consultants and does some consultations.
Once, she delivered her favorite lecture at a center for at-risk teenage girls. She asked how much skin a mom would have to expose to nurse in public. A lot, the girls said. While they talked, Bonyata used a sling and a doll to simulate nursing.
"Guess what, ladies. I'm breast-feeding my baby right now," she said. "Can you tell?" The girls had no idea, she said.
Those who know Bonyata say they admire her because she takes a scientific approach to nursing and parenting. She emphasizes the medical benefits of nursing as opposed to the emotional benefits, though she acknowledges those, too.
"There are only so many ways you can say something feels good," she said. "Most people today want more than that."
Fellow La Leche leader and St. Petersburg resident Hilary Flower, who wrote a book about her own tandem nursing experience, calls Bonyata a pioneer.
"A lot of advice out there was very intuitive; there's a lot of knee-jerk.
"Then along came Kelly. She's not like that. She won't put anything up there that isn't checked out."
If an issue is debatable, Bonyata will tell you so, Flower said. (For example, nearly all medications were once off limits to nursing moms, but that has since been relaxed.) It's a testament to people's faith in Bonyata that numerous message boards link back to her site.
"It's not to Dr. (William) Sears' (parenting) Web site, it's not to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it's to kellymom," Flower said.
Despite her site's popularity, Bonyata has yet to make a profit. She won't sell advertising because she wants to maintain control of the site's content. She has a link through which visitors can make donations, and she charges $2.50 per copy of each of her 42 handouts.
She also gets a percentage of the proceeds when supporters link from her site to place an order on www.amazon.com.
"I don't use Google ads because a formula ad or pacifier ad might pop up," she said.
Bonyata is now working to speed up her message boards. She knows seconds count for a mom who needs information before a baby wakes from a nap.
As for a third child? Bonyata said she's not trying, but she won't rule it out either.
"Who knows? I'm not in a hurry at the moment."
Lisa Buie can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4604.
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The Kellymom file
Name: Kelly Bonyata
Family: Husband, Granville; daughter, Jordan; son, Alex
Hometown: Toccoa, Ga.
Education: Bachelor of arts, Mercer University, 1991, majoring in physics and mathematics. She is an international board-certified lactation consultant and a member of the International Lactation Consultant Association and the Florida Lactation Consultant Association.
Occupation: Founder of www.kellymom.com, internationally known Web site that specializes in breast-feeding and parenting issues.
Other interests: horseback riding, karate (a blue belt with a brown stripe), singing in her church choir, playing the flute.
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Breast-feeding: The early weeks
We asked Kelly Bonyata to tell us which questions she receives most often from moms, and how she answers them. Here is her list.
How often should my newborn nurse?
Aim for nursing at least 10 to 12 times per 24 hours. You can't nurse too often, but you can nurse too little. Nurse at the first signs of hunger (stirring, rooting, hands in mouth). Allow baby unlimited time at the breast when sucking actively, then offer the second breast. Wake baby to nurse if two hours (during the day) or four hours (at night) have passed without nursing.
How much weight should my baby gain after my milk comes in?
The average newborn gains 5 to 7 ounces a week and is back to birth weight by two weeks. Take your baby for a weight check at the end of the first week or beginning of the second week. Consult the pediatrician and lactation consultant if your baby is not gaining as expected.
How many diapers should I be changing?
In the early days, a baby typically has one wet diaper for each day of life (one on day one, two on day two . . .). Once mom's milk comes in, expect five- to six-plus wet diapers every 24 hours. In the early days, a baby also typically has one dirty diaper for each day of life. After day four, your baby should have at least three to four dirty diapers daily, although some may have more. After four to six weeks, dirty diapers may decrease. This is okay as long as weight gain is good.
How can I tell if my baby is getting enough milk?
If baby is gaining weight well on mom's milk alone, milk supply is fine. Between weight checks, a sufficient number of wet and dirty diapers will indicate that a baby is getting enough milk.