By Francisca Orchard, CNM, IBCLC
I became a certified midwife 20 years ago, assisting women in labor since my early adult days. I came into this field with an eye toward low intervention birth and respect for mothers, with special emphasis on the humanization of birth. This was probably because, during my internships in hospitals, I saw very little respect for women and a lot of poor treatment of them.
In the 1990s, I worked in a neonatal intensive care unit where the promotion of breastfeeding in preterm infants was a priority. Later, I also received doula training in the U.S. and earned a diploma in infant massage in London.
In 2011, I achieved my goal of becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant® (IBCLC®). The road was not easy for me. The year I took the exam was the first time in Chile the exam was given at the same time as in the rest of the world.
Since then, I have been working in breastfeeding promotion, and consulting in support of perinatal health professionals. I began a prenatal education program for pregnant women and their families that promotes breastfeeding and respectful delivery to reduce the number of caesarean section deliveries in Chile, and to increase our prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months of life.
In Chile, we have 43% of mothers still breastfeeding at 6 months, but there is a huge disparity in breastfeeding rates related to women’s income. We have an urgent need to follow mothers during the first days after maternity hospital discharge, where most abandon exclusive breastfeeding. We also struggle with health professionals who, due to their lack of knowledge about breastfeeding, are perhaps our biggest barrier to breastfeeding duration. Most pediatricians encourage the use of artificial supplements instead of working with mothers and babies early to help them continue breastfeeding.
Currently, I am a member of the Chilean Committee on Breastfeeding and the Lactation Committee of the Chilean Society of Pediatrics. Some months ago, I collaborated with a multidisciplinary team of psychologists and photographers on a project called “Breastfeeding Mothers.” We created a space where women of different ethnicities and Chilean places were professionally photographed in different breastfeeding situations. It is a beautiful work with more than 50 photographs. We are awaiting funding to publish it for breastfeeding promotion in Chile.
In my daily work, I consult with women and babies with breastfeeding difficulties and write articles of interest to our community.As of this writing, I am one of only 2 IBCLCs in Chile. During World Breastfeeding Week, I traveled to different cities in Chile to participate in breastfeeding promotion activities. Additionally, I work on an advisory team of the ministry of health. We are working toward implementing the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in Chile during 2015. The Chilean government is also discussing the approval of human milk banks.
It is an exciting time in Chile with so much going on to support and promote breastfeeding. I am thankful for the International Lactation Consultant Association’s® resources that help me inform my community about the competencies and value of IBCLCs, and to increase our numbers throughout Latin America.