Lactation Consultants could be the best investment of many countries to support healthy populations

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

The International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is the educational certification given 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 is comprehensively equipped with knowledge and skills to extend lactation care to all breastfeeding mothers, specifically for high-risk mother-infant dyads.

Currently, more than 34,000 Lactation Consultants exist around the globe. However, this may still be not enough to save countless lives that are lost every day due to the direct or indirect reasons connected to unsuitable breastfeeding practices. In particular, many of the countries that are still struggling to meet their targets of improving children and mothers’ health have not yet prioritized the importance of Lactation Consultants and their role.

Although many healthcare professionals in maternity facilities are knowledgeable and provide relevant care to newborns and mothers, this is probably not up to the WHO’s standards (10 steps to successful breastfeeding). At the moment, in hospitals, lactation support is provided by the immediate healthcare workers who are available in maternity units such as nurses, doctors, and midwives.

Image by combonianos_brasil from Pixabay
Image by combonianos_brasil from Pixabay

However, outside the hospital setting, experienced family members or general healthcare volunteers are the only individuals who happen to provide advice on breastfeeding. No specific knowledge and set of skills is normally disseminated within these communities due to the lack of a specialized professional, and this may result in breastfeeding discontinuation. Perhaps a Lactation Consultant could be the only professional who is dedicated to providing focused breastfeeding care and management of the complex challenges involving breastfeeding, to extending its time duration, and improving mothers’ experiences.

The impact of Lactation Consultants: more research is needed

Worldwide many lactating mothers reach out for knowledge and support in the post-delivery period. I personally believe that all countries investing in promoting the role of Lactation Consultants would simultaneously improve the quality of life of the entire population in the long run.

A study conducted in the USA about the impact of a Lactation Consultant intervention on breastfeeding intensity found positive feedback from mothers about the perceived support in breastfeeding, 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 create on breastfeeding communities and their success rates.

Image by Valéria Rodrigues Valéria from Pixabay

Among various other healthcare professionals trained for lactation care, IBCLC is the only one who is certified by IBLCE and requires a maximum number of hours in teaching and skill training. There was a significant rise 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 connection between successful breastfeeding and the presence of a Lactation Consultant.

Now there is an opportunity to learn about the need for a completely dedicated role that defines the need and implements the standardization of breastfeeding. To date, several studies have found that the transition of an infant’s feeding practices from breast to bottle may be too quick. Many of the influencing factors that have contributed to this unnatural shift are socio-cultural demands in one’s life, commercial marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and challenges related to starting breastfeeding in the postpartum phase.

The WHO’s recent report about the “Scope and impact of digital marketing strategies for promoting breastmilk substitutes”, released in 2022 is consistent with declining trends of breastfeeding in developing countries due to unscrupulous commercialization of formula milk. To reverse this trend, committed professional care is vital.

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