By Cathey Horsfall
Research lies at the heart of IBCLC practice, but only a small proportion of IBCLCs will actively contribute to the international research body during their careers. This is a missed opportunity. Research not only provides a vehicle for changing opinions and practice, it is also a great way of showcasing the profession alongside the traditional medical disciplines. Essentially, it is a great marketing tool at a local and international level.
For those who don’t work within the health care facilities in their communities, breastfeeding supporters are often trying to change whole organizations from the outside. This is phenomenally hard and it can seem almost impossible to get other medical professionals to even consider that we might have something to offer.
Why is published research important?
Published research is obviously very important to drive improvements in our own maternal/neonatal care and breastfeeding practices but it doesn’t end there.
Published research is how we say to the rest of the world, “this is what our community can demonstrate is true,” and “our work has been examined critically” and “it has been found to be of caliber and importance.” In short it is how we get others to take formal notice of what we are doing.
It is also how a group can demonstrate its superiority in a field. Look through the recent research on breastfeeding. How much of it has been done by a team with an IBCLC at the core? How much of it is truly innovative? If IBCLCs really want to be being considered as the pinnacle of breastfeeding knowledge, it is essential that they are heavily involved in pushing the boundaries of international knowledge into the subject.
Published research also gives us statistics. Statistics can be extrapolated, correlated and most importantly costed. As a sales person, give me evidence of worth and I can sell the profession. Give me none and I am left with nothing to sell.
In short, published research can be used to improve maternal care, raise respect for the field, and also to convince those on the inside of our medical institutions that IBCLCs are worth backing.
“We have all the evidence we need in practice-based observation”
The harsh realities of the sphere IBCLCs operate in is that companies and health services are never going to make financial decisions based on practice-based evidence. Quite frankly, why should they?
In order to raise the overall chances of IBCLC employability within health services, the IBCLC profession as a whole will need to start to get a lot more of what they know documented.
Practice-based observations have their validity, but without documentation it is hard to share knowledge amongst yourselves reliably, let alone use it to convince the (doubtful) outside world of the benefits of a service etc.
The documentation required by external agencies needs to be in the form of good, sound research … the sort that will stand up to scrutiny. It needs to be well planned, and well executed. Ideally, it needs to be done in conjunction with other health professionals, including both the mainstream and the more alternative practitioners, working in the same research team.
This is way too much work/costs too much
It doesn’t have to mean a huge amount of work personally, nor does it have to cost a lot to do.
- Begin with small scale studies – Use these to approach health professionals to look to broaden them out. Approach your existing caseload if appropriate.
- Choose your subject matter and methods with care – Clearly, you do not have the resources of a large research department so cut your cloth accordingly.
- Pair up with other IBCLCs with similar interests – Part of the difficulty in doing research is in getting good quality, larger scale data sets. Perhaps this can be overcome by working with other IBCLCs etc. This can also be a good way of building up skills in experimental design etc.
- Look outside the IBCLC field for support – You don’t have to limit your research team selection to IBCLCs. Many volunteer breastfeeding supporters would be happy to get involved in research, if only we were asked.
- Look for funding – You don’t necessarily have to foot the bill yourself. There are grants etc available out there that you may be able to access once you have done a small pilot or written a proposal. You may even be able to approach your local University or teaching hospital in order to find resource to help you do the leg work.
- Consider it an investment in the future – The links that you form with your local educational institutions, medical organisations, and the like, may prove invaluable to increasing your involvement. Consider it a marketing exercise for you and your skills.
Research really does matter
Research really does matter and can make a big difference. Why not think about doing something? Most breastfeeding supporters have an area of knowledge in which they feel most comfortable. Why not focus on that. Perhaps ask yourself: “what basic questions are unanswered in existing literature, and what can I do to try and fill that gap?”
Cathey Horsfall is a trainee Breastfeeding Counsellor with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, UK. She has two children under four and holds an eclectic set of qualifications including a B.ed (Hons) and a post graduate business qualification from Cambridge University, UK. She has spent the last ten years working in commercial organisations where the importance of good marketing and brand awareness were felt very keenly. Most recently, she has written for a large UK public relations company, giving her a strong understanding of just how important it is to actively lobby and constantly ensure that potential customers are exposed the skill and strengths possessed.
This article makes a good case and I agree with it. However, in most of the world, Institutional Review Boards have so much power and are getting so pedantic that we humans are at risk of greatly reducing how much we can research ourselves. If you do ANY research with humans with the intention of publishing it, even just a few focus group discussions, in most places you have to go through, in advance, a complex, time-consuming, patience-testing and in some places expensive process of getting permission. Based on minor issues, irrelevant to any real ethical questions, these IRBs can delay your research by many months. And you can get in serious trouble if you do anything before getting their approval.