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Challenges and Opportunities in the Global Lactation Consultant Profession: A Summary and Invitation for Discussion

by Lisa Mandell, MBA, IBCLC, Global Advocacy Adviser, ILCA

On 13 August, I was honored to moderate the opening plenary session at the ILCA 2023 Annual Conference, which took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. It was truly delightful to work with a varied group of expert panelists, which included:

  • Nadrah Arifin, Physician and Lactation Consultant (Malaysia)
  • Paulina Erices, MS, IBCLC (USA; originally from Chile)
  • Egondu Onuoha, MS, RDN, IBCLC (USA; originally from Nigeria)
  • Daiva Sniukaite, MA, IBCLC (Lithuania)

The session commenced with a brief outline of just some of the advocacy work that ILCA is engaged with on the global stage, followed by introductions from the panelists. I then shared a startling statistic: Globally, there are about 35,700 IBCLCs; of this, approximately 19,000 are in the United States, leaving only 16,000 IBCLCs in the rest of the world. Many countries have no IBCLCs at all, or very few. In comparison, there are approximately 28 million nurses and 1.9 million midwives, worldwide.

Given these relatively small numbers, the panel discussed how IBCLCs can most effectively impact breastfeeding/chestfeeding. Much of the discussion centered around working with and training peer counselors, removing barriers and partnering with other health care providers, and how IBCLCs can work to coordinate support, which in turn will hopefully increase the numbers of IBCLCs.

Another part of the discussion focused on providing culturally sensitive or responsive care. Agreeing that this is a critical skill, the panelists discussed the need for intentional learning in this area, availability of lactation care providers who come from different cultures, and the importance of being able to provide alternative solutions when one solution isn’t readily accepted in a culture.

A major challenge shared by all panelists was the lack of recognition of the IBCLC – legal or professional recognition allowing providers to work, as well as recognition by other health care providers. The panelists shared their varied experiences working on this issue. This is an important area for ILCA’s advocacy efforts and we look forward to working at the global level and with national associations to address this.

During the session, we also discussed some of the outside influences, such as the lack of regulation of marketing of commercial milk formula and maternity protections, both of which influence breastfeeding. This pointed to the need for more IBCLCs, improved training programs, emphasizing the value and importance of breastmilk and maternal/child health, addressing disparities, and increasing data collection on breastfeeding to be better able to advocate for policy changes.

Our final topic of discussion was how we can best work together with other IBCLCs, ILCA members, peer supporters, health care providers, etc. The key themes of discussion were collaboration, inclusivity, and connection.

Continue the Conversation

As ILCA’s Global Advocacy Adviser, I encourage you to share your thoughts by submitting a comment (click on the though bubble icon below). Consider the following questions: What challenges are you currently facing that were not addressed during the session? Of the challenges addressed, which are ones you don’t face or perhaps haven’t thought of? What other opportunities can you suggest?

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