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Inside Appalachia

Breastfeeding is Natural, But for Many Appalachian Women, It’s Not ‘Easy’



Emma Pepper plays with her son at their home in Charleston. Pepper struggled to breastfeed for six weeks before switching to formula -- a decision she says she wishes she would have made "much sooner." Photo: Kara Lofton, West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months after birth, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, citing research that says breastfeeding is healthy for infants. It protects against diseases, obesity and stomach issues, helps the mother lose weight and decreases the risk of some cancers. But although breastfeeding is “natural,” for many women, it’s not “easy.”

When Emma Pepper got pregnant, she was totally on board with breastfeeding — until her son was born.

“He could never quite latch properly,” she said. “And he was actually born on a weekend in the hospital and so the lactation consultants weren’t available to support me in the very beginning.”

Pepper lives in Charleston, West Virginia. West Virginia Public Radio reporters called 14 hospitals in the state and only two had breastfeeding consultants available around the clock, even though it’s common for women to struggle with breastfeeding after giving birth.

Unless doctors and nurses have undergone special training, they may not have the expertise to help new moms learn to breastfeed. Only four hospitals in West Virginia require formalized breastfeeding training for nurses and doctors on labor and delivery floors. These hospitals have a “baby friendly” designation from Baby Friendly USA, a World Health Organization and UNICEF program designed to improve the role of maternity services worldwide.

The hospital where Pepper gave birth is not one of the four. Pepper said she was told by a nurse to keep her son for more than an hour on each of her breasts to try to get him to latch. By the time she was discharged from the hospital, she said her nipples were raw.

“It ended up making my breastfeeding experience just more challenging overall,” she said.

A 2013 study published in the journal Pediatrics found that 60 percent of women don’t breastfeed as long as they intend to. This is because of latching problems, concerns about infant nutrition and weight, the need to return to work, or because they don’t have enough support as they try to figure out breastfeeding.

Kailey Littleton, a pediatrician and board-certified lactation consultant in Weirton, West Virginia, said a lot of women she sees have problems breastfeeding.

“Because the information is not great and a lot of the ‘help’ that women get is not the best for them, things tend to go awry,” she said.

Littleton said she hears stories from women about how friends and family or even doctors and nurses have encouraged them to supplement with formula. But supplementing with formula can impact breast milk supply, making it harder to breastfeed. She says many women are also told some pain is normal — but she says it’s not — and that pain is the sign of a bad latch.

When Pepper was discharged, her son still wasn’t latching properly. The doctor recommended she supplement with formula. Pepper was okay with that, but she still wanted to breastfeed. She worried that if she didn’t, her son would be sick more often.

In the meantime, she was being urged on by a lot of people. Her friends, her therapist, even her hairdresser, asked her if she was breastfeeding.

“And so I felt an extreme amount of just societal pressure to be able to live up to that,” she said. “And as a result of that, I made some pretty extreme demands on my body in order to be able to fulfill that wish that I had for him.”

Pepper said she spent hundreds of dollars on pumps to increase her milk supply. About a week after giving birth she also connected with a local lactation consultant who suggested a strict regimen: breastfeed, then supplement with formula, then pump to increase milk supply. But Pepper said she was either breastfeeding or pumping around the clock. It wasn’t sustainable.

“I felt such an enormous sadness that I was wearing this pump all of the time, and I couldn’t hold and bond with my baby while I was wearing it, and I only had a limited amount of time for maternity leave,” she said.

After about two months, Pepper would have to return to work. She struggled to breastfeed for six weeks, then the lactation consultant recommended she switch to formula.

“Receiving that advice from her was part of what gave me the confidence to go ahead and switch to formula feeding when I felt I had exhausted every single avenue available to me to make breastfeeding work,” said Pepper.

It’s a decision she said she wishes she had made earlier.

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.

Inside Appalachia

Traditional Handmade Furniture: Passing Down the Craft



Eddie Austin sanding a piece of wood in his shop. He took over Jim's wood shop just over two years ago. Photo: Caitlin Tan

Families all across the world pass on traditions and it is no exception in Appalachia.

Traditions like making apple butter in the fall, or celebrating Christmas morning at mamaws, or picking ramps at that secret spot in the spring, or even just going to church on Sunday.

But for one family in Lincoln County, West Virginia, the tradition is building furniture.

Jim Probst has spent over 40 years hand making furniture. Over the last 20 years, he has passed down that tradition to his son-in-law Eddie Austin.  

Jim Probst in his house, which is filled with his traditional furniture. He started building furniture in the ’70s when he moved to West Virginia. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Jim is now retired, but he built himself a “retirement workshop” at the end of a muddy road down a small hollow in Lincoln County.

Inside it smells of fresh ash wood. It is cozy with a wood-heated stove. West African music plays softly from the stereo.

At the back of the room there is a smooth finished, spiral wooden staircase that leads to a loft. The steps are patterned with a dark, walnut wood; all of which Jim built.

Since Jim is retired, he still maintains a shop for work on the occasional piece, but mostly just for fun.

“There’s a woodworking tradition that seems to have started in Lincoln county,” Jim says. “And who knows, Eddie’s got two kids and his son says he’s gonna be a woodworker, farmer.”

Although Jim loves woodworking, the work is not easy. He puts hours upon hours of labor into each piece of furniture, and it shows.

A chair Jim built. His chairs typically sell for $800. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The pieces are exquisite. Smooth finished curves, often in a deep cherry wood. But that hand crafting makes the pieces expensive – money that not a lot of people have.

One of Jim’s chairs can retail for $800.

He moved to West Virginia from Indiana with his wife during the back-to-the-land movement in the ‘70s when many young, artsy people moved and bought land in the state.

Jim loves West Virginia – the nature, solitude and low crime rates. He considers it his home and says he would not live anywhere else.

As a child, he had learned basic woodworking skills from his father, but the craft of furniture making is something he’s largely taught himself.

“I was accustomed to that if you wanted something you could build it yourself,” he says.

During his 40-year career, Jim became a nationally- recognized furniture builder. He has been featured in magazines and two books.

His sleek, minimalist style caught the eye of wealthy buyers and several high-end furniture festivals. These things helped put him on the map.

“We were in shops in Seattle, one in Colorado, a shop in Chicago, shops in New York, Atlanta, out in Martha’s Vineyard,” he says.

Passing it Down

Today, most of the work is done by Eddie.

Eddie Austin using his dovetail machine. The machine is a 1920’s model, and it is one of Eddie’s favorites. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“It started with a girl,” Eddie says.

He is referring to Jim’s daughter Emma.

“I was 17 and I had a job as a full-time dishwasher at a local restaurant,” Eddie says. “They said, ‘We’re closing the restaurant, here’s your last paycheck, we wish you the best.’ I’d just started dating Emma and she came home and told her dad. He said, ‘Well, why don’t you get him to come into the wood shop.'”

Eddie started by sweeping floors, but over time he became a top builder for Jim, and eventually married his daughter.

Two years ago, after working together for two decades, Eddie bought the shop from Jim.

Eddie now runs his own business, EA Woodworks, out of the original woodworking space.

Much like Jim, Eddie loves West Virginia. He was raised in Lincoln County, and as an adult, he has never doubted raising his family anywhere else.

He says he cannot identify with the phrase “the struggle to stay,” a phrase media sometimes uses to describe the state’s declining population of young adults.

“A lot of us West Virginians grew up without a running bathroom in our home, and we were able to overcome things like that,” Eddie says. “And so, it really irked me that people found a struggle to stay. It never was struggle for me, it was just a time to dig deeper.”

Eddie dug deeper by learning to woodwork. It has been the reason he could stay in Lincoln County.

Jim’s spiral staircase in his retirement workshop. He hand built it out of ash and walnut wood. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A lot of that is thanks to Jim.

Connected But Different

The connection between the two shows in their work. Both create pieces that are sturdy while still upscale and elegant.

The differences, however, really shine through in their work spaces.

Jim’s retirement shop is quite uniform. The focal points are the actual wood structure of the shop, whereas Eddie’s shop highlights his extroverted personality.  

There’s a lot of color. His door is painted purple. There is a wall dedicated to street signs with tree names, like “Maple Street” and “Oak Avenue.”

Music with Appalachian roots is often playing. A favorite of Eddie’s is Kentucky artist Tyler Childers.

Decorations in Eddie’s wood shop. He says he likes to keep things fun to remind him of why he is furniture building. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Eddie has also changed what was once Jim’s furniture showroom for clients. It is now a laid-back room with a table, chairs, snacks and many colorful drawings from his kids.

Inside Eddie’s Space

There are three other rooms in the shop that serve different purposes in the furniture building process.

“The middle room is actually the room where our lumber comes in,” Eddie says. “We go through 10 to 20,000 board feet a year.”

That is roughly 50 average size trees per year.

The next room is where he spends a lot of his time, and it’s where Eddie first learned a lot of his wood working from Jim. Wood pieces are cut here, sanded and glued together. A lot of the large machinery is in here, like Eddie’s dovetail machine.

At about 1,000 pounds, the 1920’s model dovetail makes joints to connect drawer sides together. The joints themselves kind of look like birds – hence the name dovetail.

The machine roars when Eddie puts a wooden drawer inside of it.

A planer machine in Jim’s shop. The planer makes all the wood the same thickness. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The third room is the finishing room, where pieces are painted with a finish and left to dry.

The Tradition Lives On

A lot of Eddie’s clients are within the tri-state region including West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. His pieces are no less expensive than Jim’s, but he says the price point isn’t the focus of his work.

“It doesn’t necessarily matter how much money they make a year or who can afford it, as much as who can appreciate it,” Eddie says.

Although ultimately a lot of people do not have the money for an $800 chair, Eddie does have an order list for six months out, much like Jim did.

Still, Jim says furniture making is much a labor of love.

“You never want to look at what you’re making on the hour because it’s going to be horrible,” he says. “You have to love what you’re doing, and you need to marry well.”

Despite the aspects of financial uncertainty associated with the business, Eddie maintains that the quality and lifetime warranty of his furniture keeps customers coming back.

Jim says Eddie is enhancing the business aspect of the shop while still maintaining the history of the craft.

“I never really have enjoyed the business part of being in business,” Jim says. “I truly think Eddie is better at the business end of business than I ever was.”

The 7-foot oak table in Eddie’s finishing room. Last touches, like a paint finish, are done in the room. Photo: Caitlin Tan/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Much like it was for Jim, Eddie says it is important to pass down the craft.

Eddie now teaches woodworking classes at a work training program based in Wayne County. One of his students has even gone on to work in the industry.

This story is part of an episode of Inside Appalachia that explores alternative cultures and economies. To listen to the full episode click here.

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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Inside Appalachia

Listen: Exploring Appalachia’s Historic Roots in the U.K.



A miner begins his shift at the Unity mine, near the south Wales village of Cwmgrach, Wednesday Aug. 27, 2008. Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP Photo

For many people in central Appalachia, coal mining doesn’t just mean jobs or the ability to earn a good living right out of high school. For some, coal is an identity, a culture, and one that is not exclusive to the coalfields of West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s podcast Inside Appalachia is focusing this week on what coal means, not just to the coal communities we think of in the U.S., but around the world.

Listen to the full episode.

When President Trump wants to talk coal, he comes to West Virginia. So, it wasn’t surprising that he visited Charleston in August 2018 just hours after his administration unveiled a long-awaited overhaul of the Obama administration’s signature climate change regulations. In this week’s episode, the team at Inside Appalachia explores the rollback of those environmental rules known as the Clean Power Plan and its impact.

“Since Donald Trump was elected to president, coal mining has picked up, and he made his promise, and he’s keeping it and continue to make coal good and American great again,” said Jonathan Crum, a Kentucky coal miner who works for a mine repair and maintenance company in Logan County, West Virginia.

While coal production is lagging nationwide, it is up in southern West Virginia, the Beckley Register-Herald reported. But an annual coal production report, released by West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, shows the recent uptick in coal production is likely to be short-lived.

PRI’s The World also released a two-part series about what happened in the U.K. when the government decided to shut down coal mines and coal-fired power plants as part of an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Inside Appalachia shares those stories, highlighting the voices of people from coal mining communities in Wales as they discuss the mine closures from 30 years ago in the documentary After Coal.

This week, Inside Appalachia also revisits a 2014 interview with Fiona Ritchie, host of NPR’s Celtic music program The Thistle & Shamrock. Ritchie discusses her 2014 book Wayfaring Strangers: The Music Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia. It shares the story of the music migration from Scotland and Ireland to Appalachia and highlights the threads of the traditional music you can still hear in Appalachia today.

Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. This episode was originally published by West Virginia Public  Broadcasting.

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