We are standing in our uniforms and she interrupts my conversation to ask, “Is that even a real thing? This lactation thingy? “
There is no attempt to hide the contempt in her voice, neither the less, I reply with confidence.
“Yes! My full title will be an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) when I pass the exam in October. “
I puff with pride with anticipation of my impending status.
A medical consultant in the room, back turned to me, shares a joke at my expense with the questioning lady. They both laugh and I falter.
I have been carting my 1000+ word textbook around with me for over a year now, fitting study into every available moment of downtime.
Once a shiny new, this expensive textbook now sports pages that are scared with notes and the spine that held it together, gave out a while ago.
Standing in a room of moking health professionals, I feel like the glue holding us both together evaporated in an instant.
This is not an uncommon experience I am told as in the UK, IBCLC’s are not a recognised professional group. A lactation consultant is not a protected term either. Yet all around the world, it is the premier, gold standard in lacation education & support.
Through their training, an IBCLC has the skills to support every parent, from the normal course of breastfeeding to helping a family navigate the complexities of lactation during cancer treatment. You will find them working as Midwives, leading Infant feeding teams within NHS trusts, and running drop in clinics within the community.
Some IBCLC’s work even harder, to enter the field as a non health care professional investing even more time and money that their health care counter parts. It is a much needed profession, with much research backing up their value.
I have been on the journey here since the first mother-baby duo I supported on a maternity ward as a college student. Since then, I have spent 1000’s of hours (paid and voluntary) & thousands of pounds working towards this goal.
Parents want to breastfeed
Here in the UK, 80% of mothers start breastfeeding, but by 6 months 1% remains breastfeeding. That’s a sharp drop off and its not down to just one thing.
Since starting this job, I have heard all the staff feeding journeys and in their vulnerable moments even seen their tears. Very few met their breastfeeding goals and even though it’s not in my job description as a Paediatric nurse to listen, it’s in my nature as a Breastfeeding Counsellor, so listen I do.
So I hear the grief behind the words, I see how it translates into resentment and undermining of other professionals & parents alike. This is not sustainable.
It’s time for change
I remember a conversation with one member of staff, who was so angry about the levels of training of health professionals helping her family. She was enraged the IBCLC they had eventually seen, said they did not fail, it was the system that failed them.
I shared with her the amount of training on breastfeeding in the various health care professionals education and we both agreed, parents & health care workers desedrve better.
There is no one easy way to change the systemic bias above but what if we rethink our approach?
What if our next efforts to normative breastfeeding start with the next generation in schools. The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers has released free lesson plans for teachers & I love this idea.
Reading through some of the exercises though, I realised that some of the content would be news to people I work within hospitals.
But if generations of children know the basics of breastfeeding, the ones who enter healthcare will already be better breastfeeding advocates without any change in training. It might just work.
Either way, the next time someone asks me,
“Is that even a real thing? This lactation thingy? “
I shall reply;
“Why yes it is, and the fact you asked illustrates perfectly why.”
Then again, maybe not 😉
Tessa Clark BSc, RNc
Balances being a Paediatric nurse, Breastfeeding counselor (private and voluntary) & IBCLC exam candidate Oct 2019 with motherhood.