August 29, 2023

How I Went From NICU Nurse to Breast Milk Scientist and Family Travel Influencer

How I Went From NICU Nurse to Breast Milk Scientist and Family Travel Influencer

What does working as a nurse, breast milk, lab work, and traveling have in common? At first glance, probably nothing, but if you’re Carrie-Ellen Briere, RN, PhD, also known as @travelboundmom on Instagram, the combination is your entire life. Dr. Briere, a mother of three children aged 2, 5, and 8, not only makes traveling with kids look both manageable and dare I say—enjoyable—as a travel influencer, but she also gives expert insight for families traveling with a precious item: breast milk. 

And when you’re in need of someone you can trust to understand just how important breast milk is—and why losing even a drop during travel can be a crisis—look no further than Dr. Briere. That’s because while Dr. Briere rocks her role as an influencer, she’s also a former Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse, a current assistant Professor with Elaine Marieb College of Nursing, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a nurse scientist at Connecticut Children’s. Yes, really. 

Here’s how Dr. Briere juggles all her different roles and how she came to become fascinated with the world of human milk in the first place. 

>> Click to See the Ultimate List of Master’s Degrees in Nursing

Nursing: The Right Fit

Dr. Briere shares that she was always drawn to a career that would involve working with babies, even spending her time in high school watching reality TV shows on high-risk deliveries and the NICU. After completing an internship working with an OB-GYN during her senior year of high school, she decided that I wanted to work in the NICU, so much so that begged a NICU hiring manager to hire her once she graduated nursing school. (And it worked!) “I applied for nursing school because I loved the 1:1 patient/nurse connection and the fit felt right,” says Dr. Briere. 

She also admits that she dismissed the concept of medical school because she had no desire to go to school for that long. “Which is funny in retrospect because I have now been in school longer than I would have if I pursued medicine,” laughs the now Ph.D. holder. 

Speaking of her Ph.D., Dr. Briere was introduced to the concept of nursing research as an honor student at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “I really liked that I had the opportunity to ask questions and look for answers (and change outcomes),” she notes. 

She applied to the Ph.D. program during her senior year and started the program part-time while working as a nurse full-time. One of the first tasks she tackled in the program revolved around uncovering the differences in the length of stay for NICU babies who were breastfed versus bottle-fed. Soon, she became fascinated by exploring why breast milk exhibited such a positive influence on NICU babies. 

Her pursuit of knowledge continued through a postdoctoral fellowship, where she combined her NICU background with more training to conduct comprehensive studies on human milk. 

“I saw that none of the research had been done with preterm human milk and knew right away that I wanted to be the first person in the world to look at the potential of having stem-like cells in preterm milk,” Dr. Briere explains. “Many people think of human milk as ‘just’ nutrition and some immunity, but it really is a complex biological system and truly a “living” thing.   

Running a Lab Studying Breast Milk

Today, Dr. Briere runs her own lab to achieve her dreams of studying human milk, overseeing a team of undergraduate and doctoral students who work with her. Thanks to a research grant, she’s also been able to gain additional training in new techniques for her research as well.

Dr. Briere explains that her work in the lab is an extension of her role as an RN. “One of the reasons I love working in a lab with basic science is that as a nurse, even when I’m working with cells in a petri dish, or running multiplexing analyses, my ‘why’ is always tied to people,” she explains. “I am passionate about my work because I know that what I am doing can change the lives of babies and families.”

Dr. Briere and her team are currently working on a project she’s been itching to explore for years, examining if fresh breast milk provides more benefits to sick and premature babies in the NICU, compared to breast milk that has been refrigerated or frozen. 

“This project is important to me, because as a nurse, I understand both perspectives of why clinical practice is done a certain way, but also the biological perspective that our seemingly ‘minor’ clinical choices can impact health in ways we never imagined,” she notes. 

From Lab to Social Media 

Okay, so exactly does one go from studying the intricacies of human milk and running their own lab to being a travel influencer for moms?

Well, for Dr. Briere, it started with a love of watching @thebucketlistfamily’s adventures and after having her third baby in 2021 during the pandemic, she decided to follow in their footsteps by seeking out adventure—even from home. “I wanted to adventure and do things with the kids to get out of the house I felt trapped in, but the mental energy it would take me to plan a day out was exhausting and overwhelming,” she confesses. But as any good nurse does, Dr. Briere decided to tackle the challenge and educate others along the way by starting her own family travel account. 

“I realized that my struggle with this could help other parents,” she says. 

She started small, posting local itineraries for ideas of what to do during the day in her area on her Instagram account. And her family was able to start traveling a bit farther, she also started to include tips on traveling with children, including how to travel with breast milk. 

Today, her account features close to 20K followers and includes a mix of her life, tips for traveling with kids, and lots of resources about traveling with breast milk. She encourages parents to know their rights about traveling with breast milk, as well as understanding how to best prepare and pack it. 

“I give a lot of tips on my page on this and am also working on something exciting to help other parents travel confidently with milk,” she shares.

You can keep an eye out for Dr. Briere’s latest adventures online and follow her at @travelboundmom

Images courtesy of Carrie-Ellen Briere

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