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Honoring Our ILCA Community: An Interview with Roberta Graham de Escobedo

Roberta Interview

Everything that we accomplish at the International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®) is the result of your support. From your membership to your participation in educational offerings to your volunteer time, your engagement with ILCA is what makes your organization able to impact worldwide health through skilled breastfeeding support. At Lactation Matters, we would like to take a moment to honor some of the truly exceptional volunteers who have dedicated countless hours to ILCA and the profession. Today, we are honoring Roberta Graham de Escobedo, BA, IBCLC, FILCA, for her many years of service to our community. We interviewed her so you could learn more about her amazing work.

Lactation Matters (LM): Roberta, you have lived in Mexico for many years. Tell us about how you came to Mexico and the state of breastfeeding in your country today.

Roberta Graham de Escobedo (RGdE): I live and work in the million+ capital city of Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula, surrounded by Mayan ruins and people who still speak the Mayan language. I am the lone IBCLC® [International Board Certified Lactation Consultant®].

I am originally from the Chicago area. When I was 20, I spent six months in Mexico enrolled at a Mexican university, working on my Spanish-language skills and doing community service for my faith. On a visit to Merida, Yucatan, I met a charming young nineteen-year-old fellow named Alfonso. As the saying goes, “the rest is history.” We have two grown children and one grandson.

In the 1990s, my IBCLC colleagues described Mexico as “baby friendly heaven.” More than 700 public sector hospitals were BFHI [Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative] certified. However, a lack of coordinated government programs and the enormous presence of the formula industry has impacted the breastfeeding rates. Sadly, we now occupy the lowest breastfeeding rates in all of Latin America, with a pathetic 14.6% exclusive breastfeeding at 6 months, tied only with the Dominican Republic.

Needless to say, there is a lot of work cut out for the healthcare community in Mexico, including the small but enthusiastic IBCLC community.

LM: How did you become an IBCLC and what is your role in the lactation community today?

RGdE: In 1979, six years prior to the birth of the IBCLC profession and ILCA, I was invited by a local pro-breastfeeding pediatrician to encourage the mothers of his newborn patients to breastfeed. At the same time, a natural childbirth center asked me to teach a prenatal class on breastfeeding.

Looking back now after 20+ years as an IBCLC, I laugh to myself, wondering what in heavens I had taught them. Nevertheless, knowing something is better than nothing, so I suppose, in some small way, my humble class served to encourage expectant mothers to initiate their breastfeeding experience[s].

Living in an isolated bubble in Yucatan, Mexico—prior to faxes, internet, and texting—I had no knowledge of ILCA or the IBLCE certification process until 1995. Once I connected to the worldwide lactation community, I had found my home. Private practice is my work setting, along with teaching at local universities and promoting worksite lactation programs.

LM: What calls you to lactation work?

RGdE: Having enjoyed the breastfeeding experience of my own two children, the natural next step is to wish others might also delight in this amazing relationship that develops between a parent and her infant, and between partners as they watch with wonder how the simple act of providing nourishment can have such a far-reaching and positive effect in the overall wellbeing of their offspring.

Attaining the IBCLC credential opens up a broad spectrum of avenues, each offering opportunities to make a difference in lives, both individually family by family, and also on a larger scale through public health programs both nationally and internationally.

LM: You have been deeply committed to expanding ILCA’s international reach. Tell us about your proudest accomplishment at ILCA.

Roberta picRGdE: The “I” in ILCA was more of a lowercase iLCA when I became a member in 1995, at the time of ILCA’s tenth anniversary. International membership was extremely low.

When I joined the ILCA Board of Directors in 2007 as Director of Membership, we had a program called the ILCA Sisters Program, which provided scholarships for members in need, but it was not very well known. Happily, during my eight years of service on the ILCA Board, we changed it to the ILCA Partner Program [eds. note: not to be confused with the new ILCA Global Partners Initiative]. It grew in size and presence, bringing into the ILCA community a greater diversity of members from countries where joining ILCA was truly an economic hardship.

Happily, last year the ILCA board wisely revised the cost of membership for those individuals living in economies where the yearly salary makes joining ILCA all but impossible. The new adjusted scale has made the previous ILCA Partner Program obsolete and opened the door for a greater international membership. After eight years of service on the ILCA board, the “I” in ILCA is now a capital “I”, indeed.

Serving on an international board is a wonderful opportunity for personal and professional growth, and now much of what was learned is being channeled into a new area of service as president of the newly founded ACCLAM (Association of Certified Lactation Consultants of Mexico). We have about 30 IBCLCs in Mexico, a drop in the bucket for a country so large. ACCLAM’s status as an ILCA Partner organization helps us to feel connected to the worldwide lactation community and gives us the encouragement we need to make a difference in our national setting. For me, to feel what I do as an IBCLC makes a difference is the greatest payback of all!

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