It is an un-disputed fact that Nature designed human babies thrive on their mother’s milk. The survival and expansion of the human race over the last 200,000 years has proved how robust and important breastfeeding has been to human history.
In addition, we now know that breastfeeding is not simply about perfectly tailored nutrition. Growth hormones, stem cells, anti-inflammatory factors and immunity are all part and parcel of every single breastfeed. It also enhances the primal emotional bond between mother and baby, which is the foundation of future relationships and is profoundly important to a baby’s sense of trust, security and safety. Breastfeeding, it seems, is a multi-faceted tool to help every baby fulfil its potential.
Unsurprisingly, national and indeed international research informs us that the vast majority of women want to breastfeed their babies but many struggles to find good information and support. Women in the UK find it particularly difficult to get the support and indeed the encouragement to learn this skill and work through initial difficulties. Most new mothers in the UK leave hospital after 24 hours and will be discharged by their midwife at 14 days after birth. Learning any new skill takes time and practise, so many women have to be very determined to seek and find help if breastfeeding is problematic. Myths and mis-information abound – particularly on the internet – and our culture has some very set ideas about what a woman’s breasts are actually for. Finding professional, evidence- based support is not easy, particularly when so many different people claim to be an ‘expert’.
The International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) credential is the highest-regarded professional qualification in breastfeeding knowledge and support, recognised all over the world. Prior to sitting the rigorous exams, candidates are usually already accredited as breastfeeding counsellors, midwives or health visitors and have additional, extensive and advanced training in breastfeeding and lactation issues. To sit the exam, they must also have at least 1,000 hours of proven clinical experience, working with breastfeeding mothers and babies.
IBCLCs must recertify every five years, in order to prove that their skills and knowledge are up to date. In addition, all IBCLCs are also obliged to work according to the IBLCE Code of Professional Conduct. In many parts of the world, they work as members of the hospital maternity team, providing both ante and post-natal breastfeeding support. Others are involved with research within academic institutions, education and in private practice. Anyone claiming to be an IBCLC can be checked against the IBCLC professional register: www.iblce.org