Lactation education

Lactation consultants could be many countries’ best investment in supporting healthy populations

Lactation consultants are certified professionals who can provide lactation care to all breastfeeding mothers. Their role could be essential in promoting breastfeeding, extending its duration and improving mothers’ experiences.

The International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is the educational certification issued by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) to those who are certified in lactation care and promote breastfeeding. An IBCLC is a professional who has all the knowledge and skills necessary to extend lactation care to all breastfeeding mothers, especially to high-risk mother-child dyads.

Currently, more than 34,000 lactation consultants exist worldwide. However, this may still not be enough to save countless lives that are lost every day for direct or indirect reasons related to improper breastfeeding practices. In particular, many countries still struggling to achieve their goals of improving maternal and child health have yet to prioritize the importance of lactation consultants and their role.

Although many health professionals in maternity wards are knowledgeable and provide relevant care to newborns and mothers, this is likely not up to WHO standards (10 steps to successful breastfeeding). Currently, in hospitals, lactation support is provided by the immediate health workers available in the maternities, such as nurses, doctors and midwives.

Image by combonianos_brasil from Pixabay

Image by combonianos_brasil from Pixabay

However, outside of the hospital setting, experienced family members or general health volunteers are the only people who give breastfeeding advice. No specific knowledge and skill sets are normally diffused within these communities due to the absence of a specialized professional, and this can cause breastfeeding to stop. Perhaps a lactation consultant could be the only professional dedicated to providing targeted breastfeeding care and managing the complex challenges of breastfeeding, extending breastfeeding duration and improving mothers’ experiences.

The Impact of Lactation Consultants: More Research Needed

Many breastfeeding mothers around the world achieve knowledge and support in the post-delivery period. I personally believe that any country investing in promoting the role of Lactation Consultants would simultaneously improve the quality of life for the entire population in the long term.

A study conducted in the United States on the impact of a lactation consultant intervention on breastfeeding intensity found positive feedback from mothers on perceived breastfeeding support, postpartum depression, anxiety and other stressors.

Although an IBCLC is a highly skilled professional trained in the science of lactation, few known about impact they create about breastfeeding communities and their success rates.

Image by Valéria Rodrigues Valéria from Pixabay

Among various other healthcare professionals trained in lactation care, IBCLC is the only one certified by IBLCE and requires a maximum number of hours in vocational education and training. There was a significant increase in breastfeeding rates when participants (mother-infant dyad) were exposed to interventions associated with support from a lactation consultant at 6 months of age. Therefore, there is a strong link between successful breastfeeding and the presence of a Lactation Consultant.

Now there is an opportunity to learn more about the need for a fully dedicated role that defines the need and implements the normalization of breastfeeding. To date, several studies have found that transitioning an infant’s feeding practices from breast to bottle may be too rapid. Many of the influencing factors that have contributed to this unnatural change are the socio-cultural demands in life, the commercialization of breastmilk substitutes, and the challenges of starting breastfeeding in the postpartum phase.

The recent WHO report report on the “Reach and impact of digital marketing strategies for the promotion of breastmilk substitutes”, published in 2022, is consistent with the declining trends in breastfeeding in developing countries due to the marketing without formula milk scruples. To reverse this trend, committed professional care is essential.