Kim Chappell of Milk Drunk: 5 Things We Must Do To Improve the US Healthcare System
Better national paid maternity and paternity leave policies. The US should set the gold standard for working Moms, yet we are at the bottom of the barrel for developed nations. It’s time for us to stop pretending that women are fine going back to work after 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and sometimes even 16 weeks. When I was at a large tech company in San Francisco I had my baby the same day as a colleague who lived in London. I had to come back to work at 16 weeks while she took the entire year to be with her baby and kept her job at the same company.
As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Kim Chappell.
Kim Chappell is the Editorial Director of Milk Drunk, a digital destination for all things feeding a baby, without the judgment. She’s also Head of Marketing and Comms for Bobbie and formerly led Brand Comms at Square and Weebly. Prior to that, she was an Emmy-Award winning journalist for ten years. She’s a mom to two babies and lives in San Francisco.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have always had a passion for sharing stories. The good ones that people lean in to, cling to the next part and want to share again later with their own friends. As a journalist for more than a decade, I took my storytelling to tech and helped bring the entrepreneurial stories of companies like Weebly and Square to life through several channels. Most recently, my passion for the emotional, real, and authentic type of story led me to Bobbie, a new DTC, organic infant formula, and ultimately to lead their Editorial Site, Milk Drunk. As a mom of two, this is the place where we get SUPER real about all things feeding — the bloody, raw nipples, the 2 am questions and the emotional hurdles of the first year of feeding a baby.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Our first post on Milk-Drunk featured a double mastectomy breast cancer survivor who was pregnant, holding a toddler, and baring all. Where her nipples were supposed to be she only had scars. This was a powerful moment to share when we talk about evolving the conversation on how we feed our babies and not assuming that breastfeeding will work for everyone. As a new company in this highly stigmatized space, we were proud to stand up for the silent majority of formula feeding parents and share stories of parents from all backgrounds.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the spirit of being transparent and real, I accidentally posted a picture of my nipple on our website! I was trying to showcase all the places modern mamas have to pump to keep their supply going but didn’t take a close look at the picture before I rushed to publish. Thankfully, it was a friend who pointed it out and I was able to swap it out pretty quickly. Just a good reminder to have an extra set of eyes on your assets (pun intended) whenever you can.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Milk Drunk exists to give parents a judge free, digital destination for all things feeding a baby. As a team of parents, we truly felt that this did not exist online. Every article about formula started with why you should be breastfeeding and every article about breastfeeding ignored the reality that most parents are supplementing. We have no agenda on our site except to give people information that will help them when they turn to the depths of the Internet for help feeding their baby. And we don’t ever want to make them feel a stigma, judgment, or shame for turning to formula. Every type of feeding journey deserves straightforward information.
What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be empathetic to the journey of a new parent — Mom or Dad. It’s overwhelming, they are exhausted, they are doing their best. A little effort goes a long way. Ask how they are really doing? How is their baby sleeping? How is feeding going? Understanding their circumstances, especially now during COVID when many childcare situations have disappeared for parents, can help you understand how their personal life might be affecting their professional life. And give Dad support too, just because he didn’t birth the baby doesn’t mean he wasn’t up at 11 pm, 2 am, and 5 am bottle-feeding the baby to support his partner.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
It’s actually not shocking when you look at the fact that we are ranked the worst developed country for supporting parents returning to work. It is mind-blowing to me that the US Family Medical Leave Act does not guarantee unpaid leave for parents returning to work at a small business. Small businesses make up almost 80% of all businesses in the US. That means the majority of women often have to decide between taking time off to bond with their baby and keeping their job. This policy needs to evolve to meet the modern workforce. Women are a more critical piece of the economy than ever before and most children grow up with two working parents. To set the standard for 12 weeks of unpaid leave with a guarantee you can keep your job at a company with less than 50 people feels like table stakes to me, and the US needs to catch up.
You are a “healthcare insider”. If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Guaranteed FMLA for women at small businesses. See above.
- Better national paid maternity and paternity leave policies. The US should set the gold standard for working Moms, yet we are at the bottom of the barrel for developed nations. It’s time for us to stop pretending that women are fine going back to work after 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and sometimes even 16 weeks. When I was at a large tech company in San Francisco I had my baby the same day as a colleague who lived in London. I had to come back to work at 16 weeks while she took the entire year to be with her baby and kept her job at the same company.
- Better lactation support for breastfeeding moms on the job. How about companies offer lactation support as a perk or discounts on formula if that’s what you choose. I have friends that work in journalism and have to pump in the front of a news van with people popping by to say hello. When they asked to switch shifts to accommodate their feeding journey, they were told no. When I worked in tech I had to travel for work and my breastmilk supply was running low so I mustered up the courage to ask our CFO if I could use a service called Milk-Stork to ship my pumped milk back to my baby. She said yes. It was a surprising reminder that we just have to advocate for ourselves more as working Moms.
- Childcare Support. It’s crystal clear to us now during the thick of COVID-19 that without reliable childcare, schools in session, and daycares open, the childcare infrastructure falls apart and working parents fall into the cracks with it. How can we build childcare for parents into the benefits and guarantee a level of support when we are spinning nine plates at once?
Ok, its very nice to suggest changes, but what concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?
I’m interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now, we have two parallel tracks, mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?
How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?
One who understands that jumping to a textbook answer to define a problem isn’t always the answer. It’s so nuanced with everything people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. You have to understand a person’s holistic situation to truly be there for them. Are they working three jobs? How many kids do they have? Do they have a supportive partner? How does this impact their diet? Stress levels? The list goes on. Ask more questions and you will get more answers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Luck is a combination of coincidence and hard work.
I like to think I got lucky at certain moments in my life like when I landed my first job in TV news fresh out of college with no experience. But as I thought about it I realized, it was much more than luck. I set myself up for success by doing not one, but three news internships before I graduated, busted my butt to get top grades at UGA, and sent my resume tape to 50 stations across the country before one got back to me. It’s a good reminder that in order to get lucky you have to work towards it.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
Lactivism by Courtney Jung is a great read for any new Mom or healthcare leader to really understand the pressure and mental fragility of a new Mom returning to work.
I also am a big fan of The Whole Brain Child. Understanding empathy and practicing it first hand with our children will evolve into how we approach co-workers, partners, and ultimately policies in general. To me, this book is a must-read to get out of our own head and ego, and onto the same level as the person or patient we are trying to connect with.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Let’s start evolving the conversation around how we feed our babies and end the stigma on formula.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on LinkedIn at Kim Gebbia Chappell.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!