Lactation education

Portland State seeks to increase supply of lactation consultants

PSU lactation education

Carrie Cohen (left) and Dixie Whetsell, both Certified Lactation Consultants, will teach classes in Portland State University’s new lactation education concentration.

(Amy Wang/The Oregonian/OregonLive)

Although over 90% of new mothers in Oregon start breastfeeding their babies, the state has a small number of certified lactation consultants to help mothers and newborns through potential challenges.

Portland State University hopes to change that by launching a lactation focus within her major in health sciences in January, with the objectives of increasing access to certified lactation consultants, particularly in rural areas, and diversifying the profession of lactation consultant.

Amid a statewide population of nearly 4 million, Oregon has 359 lactation consultants certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. Certification means they have completed at least 90 hours of lactation training, have substantial vocational training or coursework in the health sciences, and have at least 300 hours of clinical experience in lactation care .

“We want lactation consultants in every place families go for health care to remove barriers to accessing this type of care,” said Dixie Whetsell, a certified lactation consultant who will be part of instructors from the new concentration in Portland State.

Lactation consultants help new mothers begin and maintain breastfeeding and help with issues such as poor positioning, pain, how often to feed the baby, and breastfeeding-related infections. Some lactation consultants have specialties, such as working with families whose babies are born prematurely.

Parents can get similar support from certified lactation consultants. Consultants must also have lactation training, but they are not required to gain the clinical experience that consultants must have.

Carrie Cohen, a certified lactation consultant, doula and childbirth educator who will also teach in the Portland State program, said the hope is that it will attract students from across Oregon and the Northwest, especially with courses offered primarily online.

“There are big sections of the state … where we’re really lacking in lactation support,” Cohen said. She would like to see students from eastern and southern Oregon as well as Washington and Idaho.

Whetsell and Cohen said they were particularly interested in connecting with potential students involved in lactation support outside of conventional health care settings, such as breastfeeding coalitions or the Women’s, Infants’ and Children’s Nutrition Program. To diversify the ranks of lactation consultants, Portland State will provide a scholarship to two students per year who have diverse cultural backgrounds, bilingual or multilingual skills, or other experiences that will help them reach underserved populations.

A free presentation and online seminar 7-8:30 p.m. Nov. 3 in Room 204 of the Portland State Urban Center Building, 506 SW Mill St., will provide more information and allow attendees to meet faculty and answer questions by e-mail.

The concentration, housed in the School of Community Health at the College of Urban and Public Affairs, is rooted in the continuing education courses Whetsell taught at Portland Community College several years ago. There, she proposed creating a more formal curriculum, pointing out that by the time students completed their required courses, they were on their way to graduating.

Portland Community College started a lactation education and counseling program at its Rock Creek campus, but ended it after two semesters due to an imbalance between required resources and enrollment – ​​a total of 26 students were pursuing lactation consultant or lactation teacher certificates, according to PCC spokesman James Hill. Campus leadership “made a very deliberate and considered decision to close the program due to lack of clinical/practical resources and an attempt to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars,” Hill said via email. mail.

CCP staff felt Portland would be a better fit for the program and worked to support the transition, he said.

Portland State is seeking international endorsement of the program Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee, as it was in the CCP. the Birthingway College of Midwives in southeast Portland is also home to such a program. Birthingway, founded in 1993, offers a certificate and associate’s degree in lactation counseling.

There are approximately two dozen sites worldwide with accreditation committee-approved programs, most of them in non-academic settings.

“We are really on the verge of introducing lactation programs in colleges and universities,” said Judi Lauwers, executive director of the committee.

Housing a lactation education program in an academic setting brings together coursework and clinical requirements into a comprehensive curriculum, Lauwers said. Being in an academic setting also puts lactation consultants on an equal footing with other allied health professionals, such as audiologists, physician assistants, and speech therapists.

“The ultimate goal is to raise the level of credibility and education in our profession,” she said.

Worldwide, the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners has certified 27,450 lactation consultants, nearly half of whom are in the United States. work in hospitals, doctors’ offices and community clinics; and provide consulting services to large employers required by the Affordable Care Act to provide lactation support.

This post has been edited to reflect the following correction: Portland State is seeking approval of its lactation education program by the Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee.

-Amy Wang

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