In February, a nationwide infant formula recall has sent parents of infants into crisis mode, frantically rummaging through store shelves and the internet for food for their babies.
As the shortage drags on, some argue mothers struggling to find formula should ‘just breastfeed’. But it’s not that simple, said Jennifer Bolton, Ph.D., a professor at nutrition department at Metropolitan State University in Denver.
“You could make the same analogy as if you have a car available and you need to get somewhere, just drive,” said Bolton, a certified dietitian and lactation consultant. “Well, if you don’t know how to drive, you can’t ‘just drive.’ You need someone to teach you.
Additionally, mothers who are struggling to breastfeed may need additional support.
“Breastfeeding is 100% supply and demand,” Bolton said. “If breastmilk is not removed from the breasts, production decreases. And if mothers start taking supplements because they haven’t received the help and support they need, then they need a lot of help and support to find their production.
Preparing more healthcare professionals to provide this support to breastfeeding mothers is the goal of a new lactation training program launched this fall at MSU Denver. It will be the only one in the state to prepare students to become International Board Certified Lactation Consultants.
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Bolton and Amanda Ogden, RN, Affiliate Faculty Member and Certified Lactation Consultant, have dreamed of a lactation certification program for over a decade. Their vision? To create a curriculum that guides students to become patient support professionals and work in health care settings to support infant feeding throughout the first years of life.
“In the 60s, 70s and 80s, breastfeeding fell out of favor,” Ogden said. Pediatricians don’t receive any training in normal feeding, she added, and neither do obstetricians. “So long before there was the IBCLC degree, there were just nurses doing their best but with really no knowledge unless they breastfed their own children.”
Ogden is also the co-founder of Denver’s Maternity, a supportive community space for moms and families. Its main objective is to make breastfeeding support more accessible. “Our bodies make food for babies, and anyone who wants to nurse or nurse should be able to access help,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that infants are breastfed for two years instead of just 12 months.
In healthcare, Bolton and Ogden said, patients are more likely to have positive behavior change when their provider is like them and can relate to what they are going through. “So it’s become very important for us to not only replace those who retire after doing such a good job, but also to increase diversity in the field,” Bolton said.
“We really want to address some of the health disparities that we see in some of our BIPOC communities related to nutrition and health care,” added Rachel Sinley, president of nutrition and associate professor at MSU Denver. “But we know the chances of initiating and maintaining breastfeeding are going to be improved if we have (lactation consultants) who reflect the communities they serve.”
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Over the past few years, Bolton, Ogden, and Sinley have investigated the accreditation and staffing needs of a program such as this. “We realized we had the capability to do that within the Department of Nutrition here at MSU Denver,” Sinley said.
Last year, MSU Denver launched the courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Additionally, students must complete 500 clinical lactation internship hours to qualify for the licensing exam. Students, throughout their studies, go to hospitals; desks for women, infants and children; and private practices with certified lactation consultants serving as instructors. Participating health care facilities include Lutheran Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Boulder Community Health.
Jennifer Knotwell is an intern working with Ogden at Mama’Hood. “I’m so grateful for this program,” she said, adding that training is hard to come by.
“There are so many ways for us to put together the hours we need,” Knotwell said. “A lot of different kinds of learning take place, and that’s one of the ways (the program) makes it fun and interesting and keeps us coming back for more.”
Bolton added that a career as a certified lactation consultant can be lucrative, with an average salary between $60,000 and $85,000 without requiring a graduate degree. “It’s a profession that is not only really exciting and engaging, but which enables (those who are certified) to work in healthcare, either in the community setting, in the clinical setting, or in a variety of other settings, such as private practice,” she said. .
Since piloting the first courses last year, the program has attracted interest from people from all types of personal and educational backgrounds.
“People have personal experiences that make them want to continue this work,” Sinley said, “whether it’s mothers who have really struggled to breastfeed and haven’t had that support or who have been incredibly successful and want to help someone else be successful. But they don’t necessarily have a background in nutrition or nursing. So we’re seeing a lot of enthusiasm in this area from people who want to make their contribution.