A Soft Place to Land

Today is IBCLC Day. As an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, this has a lot of meaning for me. I am remembering all the families I have supported and feeling warm and fuzzy and proud. I scroll through Facebook and see fellow IBCLCs posting positive messages about our profession. I love my job! I love breastfeeding! Human milk is so much more than nutrition. I want all the babies to have it. I am reflecting on ways I can improve my care of families and parents who want to provide human milk for their infants and….wait!

On my Facebook news feed, I saw that a friend has shared a new message (just in time for IBCLC Day) from an organization that works to directly undermine breastfeeding. My first reaction was to feel angry and frustrated. Why can’t my friends see that this organization is wrong and I am right? I wanted to rush in and share all the reasons why they should not provide a signal boost for this organization.

And then I decided to sit with it and step back a little. The real questions are: Why does this organization own the message that exclusive breastfeeding does not always work? What are breastfeeding supporters doing to push parents into the arms of this organization? FIB is providing a soft space to land for those parents who did not receive adequate breastfeeding support. How can we do better?

We need to understand that parents already know that breastfeeding is important for their health and the health of their infants. “Of the approximately 4 million babies born in 2015, most (83.2 percent) started out breastfeeding – but many stop earlier than recommended…”- CDC Releases 2018 Breastfeeding Report Card If 83.2% of US parents are initiating breastfeeding, the message that breastfeeding is critical for infant and parent health is getting through loud and clear. However, without adequate support, this message also serves to create stress and anxiety in parents who do not reach their own breastfeeding goals.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of an infant’s life is a very important universal health goal. In trying to promote this message in a society that does not support parents, we are placing parents between a rock and a hard place. No wonder they are running from our message. Parents who find themselves unable to exclusively breastfeed or to breastfeed at all, feel as if they are failing. But parents do not fail at breastfeeding. We are failing parents.

New parents are sent home from U.S. hospitals with no idea how to tell if their infant is breastfeeding well and no idea of when or how to appropriately supplement their infant if needed. “Fed is Best” steps in to fill this vacuum but they are not a friend to parents. They are a predatory organization that is exploiting parent and health care provider’s fears in order to undermine policies that support exclusive breastfeeding. They have shown by their lack of cooperation with recognized health organizations that they do not care about infant well-being.

In order to get the most human milk into the most human babies, the focus must shift from promotion to support. While breastfeeding is “natural” it isn’t usually easy. Most parents struggle somewhat in initiating breastfeeding. Some struggle more than others. Some experience severe pain and physical and emotional trauma. Some do not make enough milk to completely sustain their infants and we need to acknowledge that without undermining each parent’s potential to exclusively breastfeed.

Lactation is a robust system but it can be compromised. Just like any other organ in the body, the breasts can fail to work optimally for so many different reasons, including reasons outside the control of the parent. Most of the time, with excellent support, a parent can exclusively breastfeed if they choose to do so, but many of them do not get this support. If they are fortunate enough to initiate exclusive breastfeeding, most will still struggle to continue to provide breastmilk to their infants if they must return to employment outside their homes.

The United States fails parents and children with a lack of universal health care and with profoundly, criminally, inadequate parental leave policies. Parents need high quality, timely breastfeeding support that they can afford in order to reach their own breastfeeding goals. They need universal health care that pays for this high quality breastfeeding support. They need paid leave in order to spend uninterrupted time with their newborns and young children in order to establish and maintain breastfeeding for as long as they choose.

We need to provide more families with the services of the highly trained IBCLC. All the IBCLCs I know want infants to be fed. Feeding an infant is a minimum goal, not a thing that is “best.” IBCLCs do not encourage parents to risk their infants’ health in pursuit of exclusive breastfeeding. They have the expertise to help parents determine if their infants are receiving enough nutrition through breastfeeding and how to appropriately supplement if needed. They help parents meet their own goals whether it be to exclusively breastfeed, bottle-feed expressed breastmilk, inclusively breastfeed, combination feed, or wean.

In order to fully support breastfeeding, we need to support families. We do not need to tell parents that they should breastfeed; we need to remove obstacles so they can breastfeed. This is the work of the IBCLC. We can be their soft place to land.

#happyIBCLCday #fedisnormal #paidparentalleave #medicaidforall