Thursday, June 21, 2012

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Breastfeeding and human lactation: Traditional knowledge vs industrial practices

When I write something and it receives negative feedback, I'm not above re-examining what I've said -- looking over it to see if my perspective changes. In this case, it seems a number of IBCLCs found themselves quite pissed with my post on whether or not I would want to continue on to becoming a Lactation Consultant. The basis for my argument was -- and still is, I have not seen an IBCLC in the scope of practice that I am interested in and I have no desire to work in a clinical setting. Because of this, continuing the grueling steps of volunteering, taking courses and sitting for an extensive exam, is out of my immediate desire.

I came across an article recently. Actually, I didn't just happen upon this post, but it was posted on the AnthroDoula facebook fan page about IBCLCs vs CLCs -- which is better -- and reading all of the information, of course brought me back to my own article, where the numerous angry IBCLCs came in droves to all but tell me I had the gall to compare CLC/CLE with IBCLC -- which, based off of their sensitivity and defensiveness is what they assumed. But they were wrong. That's not what happened. I didn't equate the two -- there is no comparison -- in formal education, that is. I was questioning if I wanted to become an IBCLC because I had been thinking about exactly what I wanted to do with advocating breastfeeding, and was doing a comparison and honest exploration, questioning if I wanted to continue on the path. Click the link below, and read it for yourself. And don't leave out the comments.

Since that post, my ideas on breastfeeding and advocacy and my endeavors and projections for the future have thankfully become much clearer. But all of the bickering and hearing IBCLCs defend their background has really made me think. How has something so natural as feeding a baby become such an industry -- an institution -- where people argue over who knows what and who can place a tit in a baby's mouth, and who cant? The IBCLCs on my post suggested the hierarchy can be compared to RNs, LPNs, and CNAs, where Lactation Consultants are like Registered Nurses, CLCs are comparable to LPNs and so on -- something like that -- who has more experience and who can do what. OK. I'll accept that. One of my sisters is a Registered Nurse, and I know there are things that, by law she can do that LPs, CNAs, etc. cannot. But this isn't prepping someone for surgery or sticking an IV in someone's vein. Like I said previously I know IBCLCs have done awesome work -- I just talked to one today, who offered some very helpful advice to my friend who was concerned with her milk supply. But what about the other aspects? The necessary formal education? When did we decide our natural ability to feed our babies needed an overseer? What happened to information from our family members? Our kinship groups?

My oldest sister, who nursed seven sons, mostly talked to my mom. My other sisters talked to my mom and each other -- or their friends. When my mom had an issue with my little sister she went to my grandma. And my grandma, I'm sure, went to her mother. Would my grandma have been considered ill-qualified to guide and counsel her family since she didn't take general education courses in anatomy, biology, medical terminology or the others required at the community college level? Or accumulating clinical hours, in order to get a certificate -- the ones that have apparently relegated IBCLCs as the (mostly) matriarchs of human lactation? Would all of that information she brought from generations of being around breastfeeding women and her old school knowledge be castigated in the face of this 'new and improved' contemporary knowledge -- the way we do things? At the very least that's pathetic.

I know not everyone has this type of generational influence, but the reality is women have been breastfeeding for hundreds and thousands of years. And of all of those generations, decades and millennium -- has it only been in the last 27 years since IBCLC has been a profession, have we all of a sudden not known what we're doing? How has this replaced the natural "instinct, heritage and the knowledge that comes from our tribe"?

I want to teach breastfeeding education -- in order to highlight the benefits and get more people to join in -- which is why I will be in class bright and early come Monday morning for my CLE course. But regardless of any amount of formal training I would never consider myself the all-informed person who believes clinical hours and textbook knowledge could surpass the lengthy trajectory of human biology. Or, feel as if I possess all the answers to a tradition that has been necessary to sustain the human race. And I wouldn't be honest with myself or with you if I did not say that it bothers me to see how much of the traditional knowledge surrounding breastfeeding has and continues to be diminished and replaced with commercial intervention.