In spite of careful preparation and certification, we health care interpreters can’t know what turn an appointment will take or what topics will surface. Tension inherent in over-the-telephone interpretation increases the difficulty (at least for me). The other day a simple one-month checkup turned into a lengthy discussion of breast feeding. Not my strongest suit yet there was no turning back. I used two strategies to handle the call: visualization and my iPhone for the postpartum depression scale.

The mom had switched from breast feeding to the bottle and her little one balked. This conversation ensued. What with calm the provider addressed all concerns and I could sense confidence in the mother’s voice by the end of the appointment.

Medical Assistant: You can fill out this survey* and I’ll ask you some questions. Today is his one month visit. Do you have any questions or concerns?

Mother: Recently I switched from breast feeding to the bottle, but I do both. He struggles to latch, lasts about ten seconds, gives up and pushes away. 

Medical Assistant: Does he have any allergies to food or medication?

Mother: As far as I know, no.

Medical Assistant: Does anyone in the house smoke or use tobacco products?

Mother: No

(pediatrician enters)

Good Morning, Mrs. Belaunde. How are you today?

Mother: I’m fine but my little one is having problems.

Pediatrician: What kind of problems?

Mother: He has trouble latching on and refuses to feed. He gets upset, cries and doesn’t sleep.

Pediatrician: When did you first notice the difficulties with feedings?

Mother: Just this week. I thinks he was confused when I switched from breast feeding to the bottle.

Pediatrician: Do you pump and do you have one?

Mother: Yes, I do. Which is better, an electric one or manual?

Pediatrician: Both work equally well. How long does he feed?

Mother: Usually ten to fifteen minutes on each breast.

Pediatrician: Try this. Make this “shhhhhh” sound when he gets frustrated. He hears your breath which mimics the sound of your blood flow that he heard in your womb, a familiar sound that comforts him.

Mother: OK, I’ll try that.

Pediatrician: Another thing to do is wrap him a blanket. See how he practices sucking with the pacifier in his mouth? He’s content.

Mother: He looks more calm now.

Pediatrician: I’ll give you a handout about positions during feedings in Spanish. Try the breast milk first in different positions, then a bottle.

Mother: How do I know he has had enough?

Pediatrician: Use his spitting up as a gauge that he has had too much in his little belly. Burp him after latching on each breast and keep him upright fifteen minutes after each feeding.

feed: amamantar When you feed him, how long does he usually feed?   

latch: prenderse Does he struggle to latch on?

pacifier: chupete Do you have a pacifier at hand to help calm her down? (NOTE:  a native speaker chastised me for using “chupón” because in her country that meant sucker bite or hickey)

lose hope, give up: desesperarse My little one gets confused and gives up, unable to get any milk – he struggles and cries.

burp: hacer eructar, darle palmaditas Be sure to burp him after latching on each breast.

(baby) bottle: pacha, biberónHow many bottles do you give him in a twenty-four hour period?

*I called up the postpartum depression screening tool on my iPhone during the interpretation.,


I had to chat with Natasha Curtis, my director at the time, after breast feeding came up at the clinic. While live interpreting a woman began to breast feed right in the middle of an appointment. Her two other children jumped about and pleaded for mom’s attention. What? Too much input at once. Breast feeding wasn’t part of my growing up. For a split second I paused, the provider didn’t miss a beat and I kept on interpreting. Natasha let me know that the mother was more interested in feeding her crabby child than my discomfort!

QUESTION: Have you had any “cultural enlightenment” episodes in your career? Please comment below.  

Published by The Interpreter Fellow

I am an Ohio State Certified Court Interpreter and Certified Healthcare Interpreter in Spanish. MA Translation from The Institute for Applied Linguistics at Kent State University. Currently I serve Akron Children's Hospital Pediatrics and local courts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


thoughts on interpreting

Liam O'Dell

Freelance Journalist and Campaigner News

The latest news on and the WordPress community.

%d bloggers like this: