Breastfeeding Education Might Not Be What You Think It Is

By Deann Shaffner

As a mother and La Leche League leader, I often hear stories from other mothers about their breastfeeding experience. The experiences they relay are often from their first few weeks after giving birth. Though every mother’s story is different, I have noticed an underlying issue many seem to face. I realize that many mothers, after leaving the hospital, are unsure of where to turn when they have difficulties with nursing.

The health care staff surrounding a mother during birth are extraordinary in their job. They care deeply about the well being of mommy and baby. But what happens when mom is about to nurse the baby and the newborn needs assistance? Each position of a health care provider during the mom’s transition from pregnancy to motherhood has an important role in assessing the overall health of the mother and the infant. Professionals are trained to prepare mothers for the birth process. However, when it comes to breastfeeding education, oftentimes things are left to chance. Why does this additional education matter? How do parents access information? These concerns usually surface once a mother is searching for help and she may receive a mix of confusing information; or sometimes, even though the mother is determined to breastfeed, she is given formula and told to use it to feed the baby.

Every breastfeeding experience is individualized and can be so very different. If breastfeeding is not working, a family can be forced to decide what is best for them and their child in the midst of a feeding crisis. There are many examples involving a new mother who is having nursing difficulties receiving conflicting information from a variety of well-intended sources. If her go-to people are the health-care providers she used for pregnancy and birth, and the information she needs to keep breastfeeding is not forthcoming, then she might not question the use of sample formula that was given to her upon her hospital release.

So, who has access to breastfeeding education? How much education is required? Why does it matter? Well, let’s start with OBGYNS and Midwives; I tried looking for an overall amount of hours in the breastfeeding education required during certification. I came across some articles that mentioned only a few hours of breastfeeding education were required. The basics are taught to assist the mother with the first latch. This education varies from state to state. Of course, as a patient, with breastfeeding-related questions, you can ask during your appointments with an OBGYN or Midwife, and they may direct you to a specialist in the field of lactation. After the birth of your baby, labor and delivery staff may also assist a mother with that first latch. Labor and delivery nurses are superheroes; however, they are not required to have any breastfeeding education when hired. Labor and delivery staff are encouraged to follow along certified lactation staff to gain more knowledge in helping mothers, and some hospitals provide basic breastfeeding education classes, twice a year to their employees, and also makes sure that staff watches the same breastfeeding videos they provide patients with.

If you notice your nurse is not able to address your needs with breastfeeding concerns, do not panic, they are doing their best to help you. You may also request a visit from a lactation consultant to get more in-depth information. Pediatricians, who see most of you and your baby, tend to get a lot of parents voicing breastfeeding concerns they also receive only a few hours of breastfeeding education. Again, they want what is best for your baby’s health, but it is your interest to find a lactation consultant to address potential nursing concerns.

A Certified Lactation Consultant has the most lactation education and a wealth of knowledge when it comes to breastfeeding. Getting help with breastfeeding, from a lactation consultant matters, since they have so many hours invested to become certified. From the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) website, here is a list of 3 different pathways a person can take to become eligible to take the exam: “IBLCE provides 3 ways that candidates, health care professionals or non-health professionals, can obtain the required clinical practice in lactation and breastfeeding care:

Pathway 1 – Completing a minimum of 1000 hours of lactation specific clinical practice in an appropriate supervised setting within the 5 years immediately prior to examination application.

OR

Pathway 2 – Completing an accredited lactation academic program that includes at least 300 hours of directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice within the 5 years immediately prior to examination application.

OR

Pathway 3 – Completing an IBLCE-verified Pathway 3 Plan of at least 500 hours of directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice with an IBCLC as described in the Pathway 3 Plan Guide and obtained within the 5 years immediately prior to examination application.

Please note that personal experience breastfeeding your own children and experience helping family members and friends cannot be used to qualify for the IBCLC examination.” (1)

Another position in assisting a mother with breastfeeding is a Certified Lactation Counselor. This position allows one to receive an abundance of lactation education, but it is not as extensive as the IBCLC exam. To become a Certified Lactation Counselor, one must attend a 5-day course, more information on the curriculum is here: https://centerforbreastfeeding.org/wp-content/uploads/HCP_Spring_2020_Flyer.pdf

Other positions that include breastfeeding education and personal experience are Breastfeeding Peer Counselors and volunteering La Leche League Leaders, some areas also have support groups or local meetups for breastfeeding moms.

All the health care providers that assist a mother during pregnancy, birth and after birth want the best for mom and baby when it comes to health if you are not sure where to ask for help after having baby, speak up! A lot happens in a hospital setting after your birth, it is understandable to forget information, once you are home with baby, You can call the hospital you delivered at, a WIC office, insurance company, or see if a local moms group can help direct you towards a professional that may be able to assist you. Some websites such as this https://www.ilca.org/why-ibclc/falc may help you find a lactation consultant in your area.

Breastfeeding can be hard, but with the support of other mothers, and receiving assistance from a person who has had extensive education with lactation, there may be a better chance for you to reach your breastfeeding goals.

WANT MORE?

See one of MOM’s USF intern’s mosts on breastfeeding last semester with additional resources here.

Also, Kimberly Seals Allers, author of The Big Letdown which cites the economic and political influences of big business and breastfeeding in America, penned an OpEd citing multiple activists in the field including Museum of Motherhood founder, Martha Joy Rose in the  Washington Post – Read it here.

Image result for The Big Letdown

(1) Source: https://iblce.org/faqs-for-initial-candidates/

See Deann’s last blog on Gender Disappointment here.