I have been a lactation consultant in private practice in Austin since 1987, when I was one of the first people in the city to pass the certification examination developed by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. As soon as they heard I'd become certified, my own children's pediatricians asked me if I would like to work in their office on an as-needed basis to help mothers who were having breastfeeding problems. Within a year or two, to make these services more widely available, I nervously paid the rental deposit on a small suite of rooms that would become my first freestanding lactation clinic. On the day I picked up the key, I remember wondering if I was crazy to be gambling on public acceptance for such a newly minted health care concept. I don't know how she even heard about the clinic, but I hadn't even finished carrying in all the boxes of supplies when an anxious young mother with an infant in her arms stuck her head in the door, climbed over the clutter, and said: "Please, can you help us?"
Since that time, I have worked with hundreds of families who knew that breastfeeding provides the healthiest start for their babies, and who were determined to find the help they needed to succeed. I have also been honored to train other health professionals and to mentor LCs in our community in order to expand the access to care for more nursing mothers. LCs are supposed to be change agents in our communities. That call to action led me to serve for 20 years as a volunteer in the state legislature lobbying for breastfeeding rights. It was also the impetus that motivated me to participate in the founding of the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin in order to ensure the availability of donor human milk for medically fragile babies. It's funny though. Almost 30 years on, I still often find myself defending the need for a profession of lactation consulting.
People ask: Isn't breastfeeding natural? Of course. Breastfeeding, like birth, is natural, but we would never expect a woman to give birth alone without skilled support. For most mothers, breastfeeding has a steep learning curve and even some discomfort during the first few weeks. Hospital stays are short; when women come home with their new babies, they often feel very alone and confused, especially about whether their baby is getting enough milk. Families need identifiable resources in the community to answer their questions, help them solve specific problems, and to reassure them that it will get easier. I think of LCs as "breastfeeding midwives." We help families transition through difficulties to reach their breastfeeding goals. LCs want to make sure mothers get to the good part, where nursing a baby becomes one of life's sweet pleasures.
So on this day when we honor LCs, I say thanks to all those in the community who recognize breastfeeding's contributions to the public health and well-being, and thanks to all those wonderful Central Texas families whose lives I've been privileged to impact.
Barbara Wilson-Clay, BSEd, IBCLC, FILCA