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Informing Advocacy With Research and the IBCLC Perspective: An Update from Michele Griswold, PhD, MPH, RN, IBCLC, Advocacy Advisor, International Lactation Consultant Association

As skilled lactation professionals, we are committed to evidence-based practice but how can we also apply evidence to advocacy efforts for the families in our care?

ILCA is currently working to ensure that a number of advocacy efforts are informed and supported by both the available research and the expertise of our IBCLC members.

One of ILCA’s Core Values is knowledge. As our website says, “we believe that knowledge guides our practice, strengthens our value and supports our role in transforming global health. ILCA aims to connect members to leading experts in the field and to the research that guides practice and policy while fostering conversations that result in innovations in your work and the growth of our profession.”

One way that ILCA puts its core value of knowledge to work is to connect members to global experts in the field through our engagement with the Global Breastfeeding Collective. Led by UNICEF and WHO, the Collective is a partnership of more than 20 prominent international agencies calling on donors, policy makers and civil society to increase investment in breastfeeding worldwide. One of my roles as ILCA’s Advocacy Advisor is to represent ILCA members and partners to the Collective.  

I serve as the Co-Chair of the Collective’s Evidence Review Working Group, a multi-disciplinary/sectoral group comprised of stakeholders with research backgrounds. Calling upon governments to enact paid family leave and workplace policies that support breastfeeding is one of 7 key policy priorities of the Collective.The Working Group recently embarked upon a project to update a summary of the scientific evidence surrounding Family Friendly Policies and breastfeeding outcomes.

At the same time, the UNICEF Early Childhood Development (ECD) team is leading a new initiative to advocate for Family Friendly Policies. Optimal ECD is influenced by breastfeeding but also several other interdependent factors. Therefore, evidence briefs (research summaries) were solicited in the following five key areas: Parental Leave, Childcare , Breastfeeding, Gender and Child Grants and presented by these organizations respectively,  World Policy Analysis Centre, Overseas Development Institute and Early Opportunities LLC, ILCA/Collective, Institute of Development Studies, Economic Policy Research Institute.

On 17-18 April I was honored to be invited to a high level meeting at the Swedish Consulate in New York where I joined the prestigious panel of writers to present the breastfeeding paper on behalf of our writing group. Each presentation was followed by a facilitated Q&A period that highlighted some gaps in the literature (childcare policies and breastfeeding outcomes) but also made me think about how breastfeeding messaging can still be polarizing. For example, does breastfeeding contribute to gender inequity or does it support gender equity? I would argue the latter but not all at the policy table would agree. How do we reach consensus?

Another critical perspective discussed was the informal labour sector. Currently 60% of the world’s population work in the informal setting. Families working in informal labour settings are generally not entitled to benefits such as family leave. How can we advocate for policies that protect breastfeeding for families working in informal settings for which evidence is scarce?  I was both challenged and inspired to be part of this important discussion.

One of the unique factors that skilled lactation providers bring to the policy table is the experience of working directly with families in our communities. Where there may be gaps in the scientific literature, lactation consultants bring real-world examples and scenarios that give a voice to families globally and can help decision makers to understand the complex factors that influence breastfeeding outcomes. Advocacy for policies that promote, protect and support breastfeeding aims to shift the burden of responsibility for breastfeeding from individual families to the greater society. This is why advocacy matters and why it is part of ILCA’s mission.

The findings of the papers will be synthesized to make global evidence-based policy recommendations that support children to have every opportunity to grow and thrive. The synthesis of policy recommendations will be released during a high level meeting at UNICEF headquarters in New York in July 2019.

Are you involved in advocacy efforts in your community? Have you seen the Breastfeeding Advocacy Toolkit created by the Collective? If you are currently working on advocacy issues in your community, I would like to hear from you!

Stay tuned for more updates!

Michele Griswold, PhD, MPH, RN, IBCLC
Advocacy Advisor, International Lactation Consultant Association

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