I have been thinking about this question a lot. Not only am I an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), but I do professional training in lactation skills, and I mentor interns who want to become IBCLCs. Jamie Oliver has gotten in a lot of hot water for supporting breastfeeding recently. Because of his personal experiences with his wife, he thought it was pretty easy to breastfeed. Sometimes it is.
I do have mothers say to me, breastfeeding is the easiest thing ever, why doesn’t everyone do it? But, but, I also have mothers who say to me (and I was once one of these mothers) breastfeeding is the hardest thing I have ever done. How does anyone do it? I do think that having a great IBCLC on board can help.
I just did a talk at Lactation Consultants in Private Practice in March of 2016 about increasing client success. I believe that how the IBCLC interacts with her clients can make the odds of the mother having breastfeeding success (whatever that means to the mother) increase, or inversely, decrease. Let me explain.
There are four pillars that we as IBCLCs need to shore up to help this mother stand strong.
The first is excellent communication skills. I use and am working on becoming a trainer in Motivational Interviewing (MI). This way of communicating is client focused. A key piece is the spirit of MI, genuinely wanting to understand the client, not judging, and treating the client with respect and kindness. This means you do far more listening than talking. This can be hard for us! However, if you take the time to find out about your mothers, their goals, their experiences, you will be far more successful in helping her in a way that is, well, truly helpful for her. How an IBCLC interacts with a mother helps the mom stay in the game or quit. She needs social and emotional support to keep her going, trying new ideas, if breastfeeding is a struggle. I am a huge believer in support groups in general but breastfeeding support groups in particular. We offer two Breastfeeding Cafes weekly and a monthly Working and Breastfeeding support group. Breastfeeding mothers can help other breastfeeding mothers. And how good does it feel to be a mother who is now out of the weeds and be able to actually now help someone else with breastfeeding?
The second pillar is great clinical skills. Knowing what problems look like, how they present, and then what to do to help resolve them! There is almost always more than one way to help a mother move forward in a positive way, so they need to have a couple of possible plans to try. This clinical piece is sadly neglected in most trainings for nurses, doctors, other health care providers, and IBCLCs. Often they focus on theoretical knowledge rather than the clinical skills needed to actually help someone. They could provide video links, handouts, and other resources for mothers to use when they are not with them. I have created a youtube channel, web pages, and recorded podcasts, so my mamas have support when I am not there. In my professional courses, I concentrate on these top two areas. Communication and clinical skills because I feel they are so critical.
The third pillar is being a life long learner. I don’t know everything about breastfeeding! But, I have lots of books to consult with and learn more. I read my professional chat groups religiously. I go to conferences to learn, learn, learn. I think back to when I started over 10 years ago and wonder, how did I help anyone? But I did because of pillar number four!
The fourth pillar is to be able to admit you don’t know. For whatever reason, I have always been willing to do this. Apparently my ego is less important than to help mothers! This is also incredibly freeing! Guess what, I don’t know everything! Shocker! But what I do know is who does know more than me. I have great breastfeeding books to consult. I have become friends with some of the best IBCLCs in the world. Not only are they delightful people who I enjoy very much, but when I am stumped, I know who to go to. Sometimes it take a village to solve a breastfeeding problem! I have three cases of sore nipples that I am consulting with others right now and am going to be asking about a little one who is still fussy at the breast at five months. When I run out of ideas, and believe me I do have ideas, I am ok with saying, let’s consult with some others who might have answers. This also satisfies #3, being a life long learner. Bonus! Guess who is learning so much from my colleagues!
Remember, breastfeeding helpers are like car mechanics. Some are great, some not so good. If you have not found answers to your breastfeeding problems, you feel stalled out or moving backward, don’t throw the car away, consult with another mechanic. Ask around, find out who is really good. There may not be an answer to your breastfeeding problem but I bet there is!