Lactation consultants are certified professionals who can provide lactation care to all breastfeeding mothers. Their role could be crucial in promoting breastfeeding, prolonging breastfeeding and improving mothers’ experiences.
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The International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBLCC) is the educational certification awarded by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) to those certified in lactation care and promoting breastfeeding. An IBCLC is a professional fully equipped with the knowledge and skills to extend lactation care to all breastfeeding mothers, particularly high-risk mother-child dyads.
There are currently more than 34,000 lactation consultants worldwide. However, this may still not be enough to save countless lives lost every day due to the direct or indirect reasons related to inappropriate breastfeeding practices. In particular, many of the countries that are still struggling to meet their goals for improving child and maternal health have not prioritized the importance of lactation consultants and their role.
Although many healthcare professionals in maternity facilities are knowledgeable and provide appropriate care for newborns and mothers, this probably does not meet WHO standards (10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding). Currently, breastfeeding support in hospitals is provided by the immediate health workers available in maternity wards such as nurses, doctors and midwives.
However, outside of the hospital setting, the only people who offer breastfeeding advice are experienced family members or general health volunteers. Due to the lack of a specialized professional, specific knowledge and skills are not usually disseminated in these communities, which can lead to discontinuation of breastfeeding. Perhaps a lactation consultant could be the only professional dedicated to providing targeted breastfeeding support and addressing the complex challenges of breastfeeding, prolonging breastfeeding and improving mothers’ experiences.
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The effect of lactation consultants: More research is needed
Many breastfeeding mothers around the world are looking for knowledge and support in the postpartum period. Personally, I believe that any country investing in promoting the role of the lactation consultant would simultaneously improve the quality of life for the entire population in the long term.
A US study of the effects 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 professional who is highly qualified and trained in lactation science, little is known about the impact they have on breastfeeding communities and their success rates.
Among several other healthcare professionals trained to provide breastfeeding care, IBCLC is the only one certified by IBLCE that requires a maximum number of hours of instruction and skills training. There was a significant increase in breastfeeding rates when participants (mother-infant dyad) were exposed to interventions associated with lactation consultant support at 6 months of age. Therefore, there is a strong correlation between successful breastfeeding and the presence of a lactation consultant.
Now there is an opportunity to learn about the need for a fully dedicated role that defines need and implements the standardization of breastfeeding. To date, several studies have found that the transition in an infant’s feeding habits from breast to bottle can be too rapid. Many of the contributory factors that have contributed to this unnatural shift are sociocultural demands in one’s life, commercial marketing of breast milk substitutes, and challenges associated with initiating breastfeeding in the postpartum period.
The WHO’s most recent report on the “Scope and Impact of Digital Marketing Strategies to Promote Breastmilk Substitutes”, published in 2022, is consistent with declining trends in breastfeeding in developing countries due to the unscrupulous commercialization of formula milk. To reverse this trend, dedicated professional care is essential.