Before lactation was a field of study and being a lactation consultant was a career path, women helped each other learn to feed and take care of their babies. When someone wasn’t able to provide their own breast milk for any reason, someone else in the community would do it for them. For most of human history, this was the way.
We don’t live like that anymore, but we still need help. Lactation consultants have stepped in to take on this role now. They learn and teach so much about breast milk chemistry, the physiology and biology of lactation, the structures of the breast and the baby’s mouth, the mechanics of positioning and latch for breastfeeding success. They also learn that helping someone figure out how to feed their baby is about a lot more than those things. It’s being a cheerleader, a counselor, a compassionate shoulder to cry on, a life and relationship advisor. They help people gain the knowledge and skills to make breastfeeding work, but they can also provide parents with a new level of confidence and peace.
The value of breastfeeding was questioned for a long time in this country. With the invention of breastmilk substitutes or “formula”, people were often discouraged from breastfeeding by the formula companies, by nurses and physicians, by their own families and friends. As the value of breastfeeding was diminished, the wisdom and art were also lost.
If your mother and grandmother didn’t breastfeed, they don’t know how. So who is going to help you? If your mother and grandmother didn’t breastfeed, and they don’t understand the value of breastfeeding, how are you going to feel confident making the decision to breastfeed your own children? This has been going on for many generations now. The knowledge and art of breastfeeding have been mostly lost, and people need the help of lactation consultants to uncover this buried legacy.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been easy to access this kind care. For the last many decades, hiring a lactation consultant meant a significant personal cost. For most people, this was a financial burden that they couldn’t take on. So, getting lactation care was for the wealthy, and most often for the white majority. People of color, indigenous communities, immigrants, and low-income families had mostly been left out. This meant that people in those communities have fallen even further behind in their understanding of breastfeeding.
Supporting Equity for Families
Now that the Affordable Care Act has promised more financial support for families who want to breastfeed, access is better, but still not perfect. A lot of people still don’t know that they can receive lactation support and education for free through their insurance. A lot of lactation consultants don’t know how or aren’t able to become in-network providers so they only provide the service to those who can pay out of pocket. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than it was. In most cases, people can get this care with no out of pocket cost. Depending on where you are and what kind of insurance coverage you have, this might be easier or harder.
At Breastfeeding Success, the mission is to provide gold-standard breastfeeding care for all, regardless of income.
Our founders’ vision is a world in which lactation care is a seamless part of the whole parent journey for everyone. They started this work with this vision and passion. Making lactation care available and affordable for all is what drives them as leaders and providers of lactation care. They have discovered how to become in-network providers with all the major insurance carriers, and have worked tirelessly to make it a reality. Our company includes a team of innovative accountants who are experts in billing insurance and ensuring coverage for our clients.
Professionals in the field of lactation also need to focus on equity in care. Providing multiple ways to receive care is important. Offering visits in the hospital, in clinics, in pediatrician offices, in homes, and virtually can help make the care accessible to more people. Additionally, attention needs to be paid to how people are being trained and what kinds of references are available to professionals. There is work being done to address some of these issues. For example, diagnosing certain medical conditions related to lactation often means learning about what those conditions might look like. When those physical descriptions include words such as “pink” or “redness”, that can exclude what happens to people with darker skin. The pictures that practitioners often find to refer to are limited to pictures of people with lighter skin. They may have the same condition, but it won’t look “pink” or “red”. Using a reference such as the Melanated Mammary Atlas can help students and providers be better able to diagnose and treat issues equitably.
Breastfeeding Success cares deeply about equitable access to lactation care, and strives to remove barriers to lactation care — both for families who need it and for a diverse field of individuals who feel called to provide it. For that reason, they do the work that is needed to establish equity. They recognize that equity does not mean “equality”. Equality means providing the exact same effort and services to all. Equity means providing the level of effort and service that a particular person or group needs to achieve the same level of success. Breastfeeding Success has to make greater efforts to reach and help certain people, and they are doing that.
Supporting Equity Through a Career Path in Lactation
One of the most innovative ways they have found to support equity is through a program that promotes equity for entering the field of lactation. They believe that the lactation profession is strongest when the providers reflect diverse education and demographic backgrounds. They seek out and employ a team of lactation consultants from very diverse ethnic, racial, social, family, and economic backgrounds. They have an internship program and career path that hires and trains aspiring lactation consultants so that they can earn income while learning and earning their certifications. And they provide high quality care to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay, and in many different ways , so they can reach more people.
Our founders, Lauren Reyes and Janet Jones, built their company on an equity foundation because they know it’s the right thing to do. They also personally understand the struggles of being young, of being an ethnic minority, of encountering financial hardship, and what that kind of support meant for them when they were starting their own families. When they were new moms, they both qualified for the WIC program, where they received benefits and breastfeeding support. That inspired them to provide that same kind of help to other families through the WIC breastfeeding peer counselor program. That propelled them toward what they are doing today, which is to provide fulfilling careers in the lactation field AND high quality lactation care to ALL. And this is not just for those who seek care. Janet and Lauren are engaged in our local community talking about our services and partnering with other providers so that they can reach more people. It takes all of this and more to create equity in the lactation field.
To wrap up National Breastfeeding Month, I want to say that I am so proud and humbled to be part of this team of amazing women who have made this their life’s work. They want families to achieve their goals and regain their lost legacies. They want mothers and parents to experience the confidence and satisfaction that comes when they are able to successfully breastfeed their babies. They want all babies, including those who are born prematurely or those who are sick, to benefit from having breast milk. They want people to make a personally, financially and professionally fulfilling career in the lactation field. They want the field of lactation to be recognized and held up by the medical establishment as the critical clinical specialty that it is through licensure. And they want to make sure that all of this is accessible to EVERYONE.