There has been a lot of discussion on social media and in the news recently about “feeding babies”. This discussion has included the questions of whether exclusive breastfeeding is safe and whether all babies should be supplemented in the first week after birth. Despite well documented research to support exclusive breastfeeding, some ill-supported commentaries cited to questionable exclusive breastfeeding research and asserted pre-lacteal feeds have only ceased since the introduction of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. Further still, some publications have accused breastfeeding advocates of forcing breastfeeding onto families, causing mothers to feel guilty, leading to post-partum depression. Most recently an article appeared recalling how an IBCLC gave the mother “permission” to wean her baby.
Is the resurgence of breastfeeding having such an impact on the breastmilk substitutes market that it has caused such a backlash? The media appears to thrive on drama and telling the difficult (sensationalist?) stories. Because it sells, or does it? Why is all this negative news occurring? What we do know is that as IBCLCs we have a responsibility and a role to play. We have under our IBCLC Professional Standards both an IBCLC Scope of Practice, as well as a Code of Professional Conduct to abide by. Nowhere in these documents are we given the right to make decisions for breastfeeding parents and families. As IBCLCs, it is our responsibility to provide information based on the best current evidence available, without judgement and in a non-coercive manner. We provide information so breastfeeding parents and families can make evidence-based informed decisions.
When breastfeeding parents and families contact an IBCLC, they are usually requesting assistance for breastfeeding issues or concerns. Part of the IBCLCs responsibility before working with the client is to ensure informed consent. A consent form is part of the bioethical principle Autonomy. Why do we require a consent form? Legally it is required and it also ensures continuity of care. The consent should include sharing information with the client’s health care professional which in turn, includes your assessment and care plan, developed with the client’s participation.
Our role includes good assessment, ensuring breastfeeding parents and families understand what normal infant behaviour is including intake and output, as well as knowing what concerning factors to look for breastfeeding dyads need to know they are supported and the knowledge provided to them is based on strong evidence. IBCLCs, as health care professionals specializing in infant feeding, need to be up to date about all areas of this field. We also need to be careful to not to fall into the myth (trap?) that we know better than this breastfeeding parent or family. If we can learn anything from these sad and difficult situations, it would be that birthing and postpartum families need easier access to better care, follow-up, and support. Infant formula is not the first or only solution for breastfeeding issues. Early and easy access to skilled lactation care is the solution that we should be striving for. If you are interested in reading more you can find the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine reply here, the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative USA response here, and the UNICEF UK reply here. This article is also very interesting as it addressed the conflict of interest in infant and young child feeding globally.