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Not all who embark on a journey to chest/breastfeed their infants are successful. In fact, Sheila Janakos, founder and CEO of Healthy Horizons, met resistance from the very start, with an unsupportive pediatrician. Through trials and tribulations, misinformation and unhelpful or just plain incorrect medical advice, Sheila was finally able to connect with a midwife in Scotland who helped guide her through her questions and challenges while breastfeeding. With the midwife’s guidance and the support of a peer-to-peer breastfeeding support counselor, Sheila was able to nurse her daughter for 17 months. Sheila is now affectionately known as the “Milk Fairy Godmother”, bringing the gift of successful breastfeeding to countless others.
Sheila’s personal breastfeeding journey, paired with her background in public health, motivated her to narrow the focus of Healthy Horizons to specialize in lactation and new parent support. “When I started this venture, people were given adequate cigarette breaks, however lactating parents were not given time to successfully pump while at work in a safe, clean environment.” Sheila has been at the forefront of driving cultural and organizational change. So many breakthroughs have been made to reduce barriers for nursing and pumping parents. Many cultural and societal stigmas surrounding chest/breastfeeding remain, and practical support for lactation both at home and at work is still very much needed.
When asked about her professional inspiration, Sheila is quick to point to her own mother, who grew up during the Great Depression. Sheila recalls that, “...she loved helping me grow my business, meeting parents, providing practical support at our first rental location, even visiting new parents and giving them cookies. She had an amazing business sense that I am forever grateful to grow up and model with my own business and share with my children.”
As time went on and business grew, Sheila became CEO of an organization spanning multiple retail centers, providing lactation support to individuals, as well as broader corporate education and full service corporate lactation programs in 125 cities in the United States and Canada. Sheila’s own daughter, Cassi, spearheaded the shift to providing corporate lactation support. Cassi, whose background is engineering, recalls seeing women engineers who were new mothers abandoning careers they loved due to lack of support at work. "No mother should feel forced to choose between her career and her little one.” Cassi now serves as COO and Chief Engineer and continues to ensure that the workplace support parents need is readily available.
Both Sheila and Cassi lead by example, taking on active roles at the company. When asked about her role and leadership style, Sheila has this to offer: “CEOs should create an environment of support for their employees. Employees who feel supported have increased productivity, increased emotional health and have a positive outlook on their careers and employers. Investing in employees brings incredible gains.” One of the easiest ways to create a culture of support is to reduce barriers to employee success. Reducing barriers doesn’t have to be complicated, or expensive. Sometimes the smallest accommodations make a world of difference to an employee. A recent example of this is how Sheila reacted when a Healthy Horizons employee had a baby in the NICU. Sheila immediately offered a complimentary hospital grade breast pump to ease the burden of pumping for that employee, making an otherwise stressful situation just a little easier.
To learn more, you can visit our For Employers webpage. This month, we challenge you to find one small way to improve your employee experience or reduce barriers to employee success within your organization.