Can You Make a Difference as a Lactation Consultant?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track or chart job outlook for those in the profession of Lactation Consultant, but if they did, this job would surely fall under the “faster than the average for all occupations” category. Across the world, the number of health clinics, hospitals, and birthing centers using breastfeeding specialist–as coaches and educators–is on the rise. The question is: Are these specialists making a difference in the field of medicine and healthcare?
In a 2014 breastfeeding report, published by the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (CDC), a chart was published providing statistical evidence that there was is a steady increase of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants per 1,000 Live Births. From 2006, to 2013, the IBCLC ratio increased from 2.1 to 3.5 per 1,000 births. That is a 67% increase.
When looking at a statistical breakdown, by state, it is undeniable that those states with a higher IBCLC ratio are states with higher breastfeeding rates. With science preaching “breast is best,” these are numbers that society simply cannot ignore.
To the right is a list of American states, the percentage of newborns ever breastfed, and the Number of IBCLCs per 1,000 live births. Over 90% of California, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington newborns breastfed. The states’ IBCLC ratio were 4.06, 7.58, 13.55, and 5.65; respectively. These numbers are all over the United States national average of 3.48. The four states with the lowest ever breastfed percentage was Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Their IBCLC ratios were all under the national average, at 2.80, 2.31, 1.81, and 3.01; respectively.
It is no coincidence that time and time again, the states with the highest IBCLC ratio are those that excel in ensuring that mothers have the necessary tools and education to properly breastfed their newborn infants.
While the job of Lactation Consultant is something that is often ill perceived as a simple task, a task many see as “helping a mother breastfeed,” it is so much more. The International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), list nine roles that an IBCLC serves in the community: advocate, clinical expert, collaborator, educator, facilitator, investigator, policy consultant, professional, and promoter. (Check out a more in-depth explanation of each role.)
The scope of practice, as detailed by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE), includes the following responsibilities and duties:
- performing comprehensive maternal, child and feeding assessments related to lactation
- developing and implementing an individualized feeding plan in consultation with the mother
- providing evidence-based information regarding a mother’s use, during lactation, of medications (over-the-counter and prescription), alcohol, tobacco and street drugs, and their potential impact on milk production and child safety
- providing evidence-based information regarding complementary therapies during lactation and their impact on a mother’s milk production and the effect on her child
- integrating cultural, psychosocial and nutritional aspects of breastfeeding
- providing support and encouragement to enable mothers to successfully meet their breastfeeding goals
- using effective counselling skills when interacting with clients and other health care providers
- using the principles of family-centered care while maintaining a collaborative, supportive relationship with clients
There are many that fear that after becoming certified as an IBCLC, that they will be confined to working in a hospital setting. While the majority do work in a hospital setting, many do not. Professionals with this skill set and expertise are in demand in birthing centers, public health clinics, and pediatric offices. Additionally, there are many IBCLC that go into private practice for themselves; they offer in home training or teach in a larger setting, such as a seminar or community class.
As proven by the evidence, the answer to your question is:
Yes, you can make a significant difference as a Lactation Consultant.
Moreover, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), people in this line of work are in dire need. Along with passing requirements that make breast pump rentals at low or no cost to consumers and establishing The National Breastfeeding Hotline, the Affordable Care Act requires insurance to cover breastfeeding education. This education requires both training both pre and postnatal. With the assistance of an IBCLC, mothers can reap the benefits of breastfeeding both for themselves and their newborn.
A report released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) says that the changes, enabled by the Affordable Care Act, will provide counseling by trained providers to help women initiate and continue breastfeeding. Furthermore, “[e]vidence links breast-feeding to lower risk for breast and ovarian cancers; it also reduces children’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, gastrointestinal infections, respiratory diseases, leukemia, ear infections, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes.”
As for the aforementioned question: “Can I make a difference?,” it is not the relevant question. The relevant question is: “How do I become a Lactation Consultant?”
The newborn baby has only 3 demands. They are: warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breast, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three.
— Dr. Grantly Dick-Read