What do you do when your job is to help breastfeeding families in your local area—but your local area comprises three states, two countries, and two languages?
If you’re Elsa Quintana, you become an expert in collaboration—in envisioning it, in building it, and in funding it.
Quintana, BA, IBCLC, BCJ, works at the intersection of three locales—far west Texas (United States), extreme southern New Mexico (United States), and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua (Mexico).
She navigates three state governments, two national governments, and two languages in her job of facilitating lactation care for families across multiple borders.
At this year’s International Lactation Consultant Association’s conference, Quintana will share tips and strategies for harnessing the power of collaboration, no matter your setting.
“We are unique in that we have two countries and three states that are all about five minutes from each other,” Quintana says. “But we have all found a way to pull together and it truly works. At the conference, I want to share our story because I believe it has lessons that can be used in many other places. I’m hoping to inspire people to see what’s possible where they are.”
Quintana served for many years as the State Coordinator for the WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Program in New Mexico, where she and her program have received awards and recognition locally, nationally, and internationally for their efforts to increase breastfeeding rates in the state.
She currently contracts with the New Mexico Department of Health to teach a bilingual 100-hour certification course for community health workers.
Working within the Binational Breastfeeding Coalition (BBC), Quintana worked on a three-year grant project called Breastfeeding on the Border.
The project brought together WIC peer counselors, community health workers, and professionals across borders to better serve lactating families.
Breastfeeding on the Border successfully established community lactation support groups, which connected resources and built networks within communities. The result is sustainable, community-driven supports that are culturally informed and not susceptible to rises and falls in government funding.
In addition, Quintana helped create a unique presentation series called “Look Who’s Talking.” These talks brought renown speakers such as Kathleen Kendall Tackett and Laurel Wilson to share information with BBC, whose membership includes lactation professionals, nurses, social workers, pediatricians, therapists, dentists, and others. The speakers presented to packed rooms, while even more attendees watched online.
The Look Who’s Talking presentations and other education efforts under the project shared one simple goal: to get a variety of professionals who serve childbearing families all on the same page about lactation basics.
“That way, the same message is being delivered in many settings across the communities,” Quintana notes.
Bringing together diverse professionals from different states and different countries around the same goal may sound like a huge task, but Quintana says it comes down to perseverance and believing in your mission.
“Every time I talk to other lactation professionals, they ask, ‘How in the world do you guys do it?’” Quintana says. “They are especially surprised that we have been able to fund some of our initiatives, like the high-level speakers we’ve brought in.
“The keys are developing good contacts, networking, and looking for shared goals,” she continues. “Maybe you’re looking for ways to provide lactation support, and another organization in your community is talking about adolescent pregnancy. How can you share resources? You are always looking to partner and invite.
“It can be done, and you can do it,” she encourages. “When you have a passion to help families, you don’t see bridges and interstate lines and borders. You just see a parent who needs help.”
From her unique perspective, Quintana will share tips on:
- Networking and finding shared goals
- Finding your setting’s unique opportunities
- Understanding your audience’s needs
- Collaborating to find funding
- Navigating bureaucracy
- Not getting discouraged
This year’s conference will be hybrid, offering both online and in-person options in Houston, Texas, US. To learn more about the #ILCA21 conference, offered both virtually and in person, visit ilca.org/conference.
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