I’ll admit it: I’ve been neglecting the blog lately. Blame it on my being out of town, or maybe on the fact that I have 2 weeks in which to make the final edits before my book goes to print, but in all honesty, it’s simply because I haven’t been all that inspired to write about anything.
Until 5 minutes ago, when I read one of the most infuriating opinion pieces that I’ve ever seen in print.
The column, written by an Illinois lactation consultant, exemplifies everything that is dead wrong about the business of breastfeeding. My heart hurts for the many truly amazing, considerate LCs I’ve met over the years who are going to be judged on the hurtful words of someone who shares their profession, but shares none of their compassion.
“What is it that makes one mother work so hard to breastfeed? What is it that makes another one give up at the first hint of challenge?”This lactation consultant ponders aloud. If this weren’t inflammatory enough, she elaborates:
There are women I will never forget. The one who pumped her milk for a year, because her little one could not get any milk from the breast. The one who vomited into a bowl while I held her baby on her breast, telling me, “Don’t take her off!”, when I tried to remove the baby from the breast. And there was a mom who nearly died after giving birth. When she was taken off the ventilator days later, her first words were, “Bring me a breast pump. I need to feed my baby.”
…I carry with me the mother who quits breastfeeding after the first breastfeeding attempt. I am sad for the baby who is not given a chance…But those babies who are given a chance… Wow. What lucky little people they are….What is the difference? What makes breastfeeding so important to some people, and not to others? What is that we are “made of” that determines who gets breastmilk and who doesn’t?….I want to figure that out.”
Apparently, I have something in common with this person: I also want to figure something out. I want to figure out when it became a good thing that a woman’s first impulse after a near death experience is not to hold her child or tell her husband she loves him, but rather to secure a breast pump. I want to figure out when it became okay for a professional to publicly berate women for not being “made of” the right stuff simply because they don’t go to incredible (some may even say obsessive) lengths to breastfeed. And most of all, I want to figure out how someone so clearly judgmental and shockingly dogmatic ended up in a care profession.
On the other hand, maybe defining LCs solely as care providers isn’t 100% accurate or fair. According to the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners,
their board-certified lactation consultants should “function and contribute as members of the maternal-child health team. They provide care in a variety of settings, while making appropriate referrals to other health professionals and community support resources. Working together with mothers, families, policymakers and society, IBCLCs provide expert breastfeeding and lactation care, promote changes that support breastfeeding and help reduce the risks of not breastfeeding.” Going by this definition, LC’s are indeed care providers, but at the same time, one of their main purposes is to “help reduce the risks of not breastfeeding.” If one were to take that responsibility to heart, then a mother who stops at anything short of martyrdom to breastfeed is going to be seen as an occupational hazard. Luckily, the good
lactation consultants are so much more than this explanatory paragraph describes. They can be invaluable sources of advice, support, and yes, caring.
I wonder if an LC who places greater emphasis on finding a feeding method that works for individual situations would be considered less of a success than someone like the author of the aforementioned, ridiculously insulting piece? Would and LC’s motives be questioned if she told a woman it would be okay to formula feed? Would this be considered a subtle form of malpractice?
We’ve discussed the concept of “feeding consultants” (a hypothetical professional who could provide support to parents regardless of feeding method, helping them to exclusively breastfeed, combo feed, pump, or formula feed, depending on the needs of the family) in some of our discussion threads here on FFF, and the more I think about it, the more I wish something like this could exist… and the more I realize it probably never can. A lactation professional who would just as easily encourage a woman to formula feed is never going to be taken seriously as a breastfeeding counselor. She’d immediately be dismissed as “sabotaging” breastfeeding, even if she were merely listening to her client/patient and assessing her needs; even if she were looking at the nursing dyad as a true dyad, and not as two fleshy feeding receptacles and a stock image of the ideal newborn.
If there are any lactation consultants reading this blog, I would love to hear from you. What do you think of the Illinois LC’s column? Do you think it’s possible to be a formula-friendly lactation consultant? And if not, do you still believe that lactation consultants should be giving formula feeding advice, as this thoughtful post over on PhD in Parenting
I hope we can get some sort of positive dialogue going about this, in order to mitigate the pall of sheer disgust that the author of this article has flung upon all non-breastfeeding mothers. I would like to remind said author that someone who didn’t breastfeed the first time may be doubly dedicated to making it work the second time around; if you truly want to raise breastfeeding rates and help women succeed in their goals, you may want to reassess your world view. Because when it comes to being a good and effective lactation consultant, as well as a compassionate human being, realizing that you may not fully understand someone else’s lived reality is, in your own words, what makes the difference.