Despite these medical guidelines, exclusive breastfeeding rates remain low. In 2011, 14.5% of Georgian mothers exclusively breastfed their newborns for six months. By 2018, that figure had risen to 24.3%.
Two years later, when her daughter was born, Davis connected with the women of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing breastfeeding disparities among people. of color. The experience was markedly different from the limited lactation counseling she had received with her son.
“Breastfeeding is a very personal journey. It was hard to keep going,” said Davis, 33, of Grayson. “The support of these ladies meant everything to me.” Thanks to the skills she learned at ROSE Davis was able to breastfeed for the first eight months of her daughter’s life.Now, as the mother of a five-month-old, Davis exclusively breastfeeds with confidence.
But over the past four years, the kind of support Davis has received at ROSE has come under threat. Mary Jackson, co-founder of ROSE, and hundreds of lactation consultants like her across the state could lose the ability to continue helping new moms on their breastfeeding journey if the Georgia Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of a 2016 law.
The law requires lactation consultants to be licensed by the office of the Secretary of State. A consultant should earn a certain certificate of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners be dismissed and compensated. The process would require the equivalent of two years of college courses, 300 to 1,000 hours of experience and an exam it costs about $700, said Renee Flaherty, the attorney representing Jackson in a 2018 petition challenging the licensing law.
Flaherty said a decision is expected soon and that if the law stands (it is currently not enforced while the petition is active), it would reduce access to care by putting the majority of claimants out of work.
Lactation providers in Georgia include Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC), International Board Certified Lactation Counselors (IBCLC), Peer Counselors trained by the National Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and children (WIC) and community consultants.
Lawmakers said the licensing arose out of a desire to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public by regulating workers engaged in breastfeeding care and services. Lactation consultants do not diagnose or treat medical conditions and they work in a variety of settings, from hospitals to clients’ homes. There have been no cases in the United States in which a person has been harmed by the services of a lactation consultant. Certain professions, including licensed healthcare providers and volunteers, are exempt and may provide lactation consulting services to clients without the need for certification.
When the legislation was first introduced in 2013, Georgia’s Professional Regulation Review Board ruled that licensing was not necessary to protect the public. There had been no harm and no complaints.
CLC certification was most common in Georgia with six or more CLCs per 1,000 live births, compared to less than three IBCLCs per live birth, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So why introduce legislation that would make the less common certification the norm?
“They don’t really believe it’s dangerous,” Flaherty said. “IBCLCs see themselves as the best and therefore want more work.” As of this week, 183 lactation consultants in the state are licensed. If the law is maintained, hundreds of CLCs would have to acquire a license or provide their services for free
Jackson is a CLC with over 30 years of experience. When mothers leave the hospital with their newborns, she slips them her card and invites them to video chat with her anytime before 10 p.m., she said.
Davis was so motivated by the care and education she received from ROSE women that she enrolled in their community training program to support other nursing mothers.
“Breastfeeding is not surgery,” Davis said. “It’s not something that requires a high level of education. It requires a lot of experience, human contact and personalization. This law is trying to break those things and the ability of people like Ms. Jackson to actually help moms outside of the 15 minute window that you can see a lactation consultant in an office.
In a statement, the Southeastern Lactation Consultants Association (SELCA) argued that the law would improve access to clinical lactation care and create new jobs, a community college program and networked lactation consultants for mothers using Medicaid. .
I don’t understand how a license would suddenly create job opportunities. To me, it is very clear that forcing a clearance process would prevent hundreds of people from continuing the work they are already doing.
For some lactation consultants, obtaining a license would probably mean greater opportunity. For others, primarily those in rural communities or communities of color, it feels more like an unnecessary obstacle.
And that’s an example of government overreach that might benefit some but probably won’t benefit the masses.