Lactation consultants are certified professionals who can provide lactation support to all breastfeeding mothers. Their role can be critical in promoting breastfeeding, prolonging breastfeeding and improving the experience of mothers.
Image by Manojit Tamen from Pixabay
The International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is an educational certification issued by the International Board of Lactation Experts (IBLCE) to individuals who hold certifications in breast milk care and breastfeeding promotion. An IBCLC is a professional who has all the knowledge and skills to extend lactation care to all breastfeeding mothers, especially high-risk mother-infant dyads.
There are currently more than 34,000 lactation consultants worldwide. However, this may not be enough to save the countless lives that are lost every day due directly or indirectly to inappropriate breastfeeding practices. In particular, many countries that are still struggling to achieve their goals for improving child and maternal health have not yet prioritized the importance of lactation consultants and their role.
Although many health workers in maternity facilities are knowledgeable and provide appropriate care for newborns and mothers, this is probably not in accordance with WHO standards (10 steps to successful breastfeeding). Currently, lactation support in hospitals is provided by emergency medical professionals who are available in maternity wards, such as nurses, doctors and midwives.
However, outside of the hospital, experienced family members or general volunteers are the only people who provide breastfeeding advice. In these communities, specialized knowledge and skill sets are usually not shared due to the lack of a specialized practitioner, and this can lead to cessation of breastfeeding. A lactation consultant may be the only professional dedicated to breastfeeding care and solving complex breastfeeding problems, extending breastfeeding duration, and improving the experience of mothers.
The impact of lactation consultants: more research is needed
Around the world, many nursing mothers seek knowledge and support in the postpartum period. I personally believe that all countries that invest in promoting the role of lactation consultants will simultaneously improve the quality of life of the entire population in the long term.
A study conducted in the US on the effect of a lactation consultant on the intensity of breastfeeding found positive feedback from mothers on perceptions of breastfeeding, postpartum depression, anxiety and other stressors.
Although IBCLCs are professionals who are highly qualified and trained in the field of lactation, little is known about the impact they have on breastfeeding communities and their success.
Among the many other healthcare professionals trained in lactation care, the IBCLC is the only one with IBLCE certification and requires the maximum number of hours of training and skills training. There was a significant increase in breastfeeding rates when participants (mother-infant dyads) were exposed to the intervention involving the support of a lactation consultant at 6 months of age. Thus, there is a close relationship between successful breastfeeding and the availability of a lactation consultant.
Now is the time to learn about the need for a fully dedicated role that identifies need and implements breastfeeding standardization. To date, several studies have shown that the transition from breastfeeding to bottle feeding may be too rapid. Many of the influencing factors that have contributed to this unnatural change are the socio-cultural demands of life, the commercial marketing of breast milk substitutes, and the challenges associated with the initiation of breastfeeding in the postpartum period.
A recent WHO report on the “Scale and Impact of Digital Marketing Strategies to Promote Breastmilk Substitutes” published in 2022 is consistent with the declining breastfeeding trends in developing countries due to unscrupulous commercialization of infant formula. To reverse this trend, professional care is extremely important.