Is it really free? Should it be?
It’s a common idea, anything that is essential in life, would be available free if it was needed.
Is there a need?
As a breastfeeding supporter, I see this applied to my specialism constantly. The need does not seem to be there with the uk having one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. But when 74% of parents initiate breastfeeding in the UK, you have to wonder, what got in their way of reaching their feeding goals?
We need to change the conversation around breastfeeding; it is time to stop laying the blame for the UK’s low breastfeeding rates in the laps of individual women and instead acknowledge that this is a public health imperative for which government, policy makers, communities and families all share responsibility.Unicef – a call to action
Decent from within
It’s not just the general public who are opposed to the idea of parents paying for support in anyway.
It is not uncommon to see a seasoned health professional speaking against other professionals, being vehemently opposed to a private IBCLC charging parents for support.
Yet when you look at the pre registration training of health care professionals in the UK, an IBCLC is the ONLY one to have the full set of desirable topics in their training in this report.
This is where I feel all opponents are all missing the point and hurting truly innovative & caring souls.
Free at the point of care
In this western, modern world, the only truly free things, are given by loved ones. There rest of the things that seem free, have a price, even if you don’t notice you are paying it.
This what has come of the dream of the NHS 70 years ago, many services are, are the point a person access it, free.
But that is not the full picture. How is it funded? By the Government you think, yes and where do they get the money? From Tax payers. Not free then.
And how about the staff delivering the support? They are paid to be there, by whome? We follow the money back to the tax payer.
Do it yourself
We are used to idea of DIY, a video on how to do anything online and try to fix it your self tasks. Sometimes they go well and at best the efforts are a waste of time and money but at worst, goals are not met and people get hurt.
When we have a problem with our plumbing, or our car, we are all quite comfortable handing money over to a specialist who can help, as we readily recognize their skill, that we do not share.
So why is breastfeeding support any different?
If you are thinking now about the people who cannot afford it, the inequities in health care and the undeserved communities, I hear you. This is a problem for us ALL and not solved by lambasting a private specialist alone.
I have yet to meet one who has turned their back on a family in need when they cannot afford their service. I know first hand, the amount of free support, or effort to refer on breastfeeding supporters take.
Many of the supporters I know are innovating, educating and leading change. Do you want to work against these people? or with them
So maybe a way forward, is to group together, campaign for more funding and then share it.
Parents get the free support they deserve, and breastfeeding specialists get the salary and recognition they deserve.
This blog is born out of the conversations I have had / seen about about Black Breastfeeding Week in September 2019.
If you have thoughts like these, read on.
- Black breastfeeding week is a USA thing.
- I support everyone who seeks my support.
- I do enough, this week does not apply to me.
It is uncomfortable
If you meet me in real life, or online, you will know I am willing to have the uncomfortable conversations and as such, I have had requests for resources from others like me, who want to work through the issues around undeserved populations and parenting / breastfeeding support in the UK.
I do not write this blog to stoke my own ego ( although it is cathartic!), I write it to share things that helped me on my journey of self discovery so far. Please do share with me what helps you on yours, let us learn together and change the unacceptable.
From the beginning
Familiarize your self why black breastfeeding week has come to the UK.
Bais (see video) needs active self reflection to unpack – this is NORMAL and a continuous process & takes time.
Understand the lack of representation in supporters affects us all, from the angle of the text books to the ‘accepted wisdom’ of breastfeeding support.
Now, if you are ready, read on.
Last year, the first UK black breastfeeding week caught my attention. I was transfixed but unsure of it’s relevance to me, confused by what it all meant and still wrapped comfortably in my own privilege.
I read blogs about why black breastfeeding week was coming to the UK and I felt unsure what I could do to effect the change needed. I started conversations that met walls. I retreated, for a while.
Roll forward to the 2018 MBRACE report, and I was firstly aghast at the statistics before us. Black women where 5 times more likely to die in the perinatal period than white women, and for no obvious reason.
I repeated steps above, hit walls and retreated again. As time passed, I became confused by the lack of public outrage. I saw more voices in the circles I enhabit, talking louder and louder about bias, racial in equality and it just couldn’t keep it in along longer.
It became clear to me that I needed to know more and so began my own personal journey into the world of my own bias, privilege as a white, middle class, woman in the UK.
In April, I poured my energy into a poster about bias, I took it to a a place with many breastfeeding supporters and I met silence. I cannot know what this means, but I assume that it means, they where not ready to do the work. You can see the poster in its full glory, by downloading it bellow.
Maybe now you are a bit further along and think..
- I don’t know where to begin
- I want to fix this
Here are some things I found helpful and you might want to look at ;
Blog – a 2019 piece, with lots to think on. Good if you feel you need to ACT NOW.
Dear white women are you behind whats suppressing black breastfeeding rates by Kimberly Seals Allers
Food for thought
Why people of color need spaces without white people by Kelsey Blackwell
Work book – Unpacking White Privilege in her book (formally downloadable workbook) – Me and White Supremacy by Laya F Saad
Book/ Audio Book – Fabulous book about the UK perspective of being a person of color, in the UK Why I am no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
In person events
Attend a Black Breastfeeding Week event near you, this one is streaming online for £5 tomorrow !
One to wait for…
I am Not your Baby Mother by Candice Brathwaite
To sum up…
When we stop and examine our own behaviors, we can check ourselves having different expectations of and reactions to people who do not look like us. It is unethical, once a harmful practice or action has been pointed out to us, to continue to act in the same wayTessa Clark April 2019
Social Media accounts to follow..
Nov Reid – Anti Racism speaker
Abuela Doula – Doula trainer for BAME familes
1-2-1 Doula – Doula, educator, running BBW 2919 in London
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.