By Barbara Oñate, IBCLC
Before I became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I had the opportunity to visit a friend 24 hours postpartum in the most expensive hospital suite available in my hometown in Mexico. I was truly aghast to see she had such damaged and bleeding nipples. I asked her who was helping her at the hospital and she replied that the nurses told that her she needed to “wipe her nipples and withstand the pain”. You can imagine how desperate I was for my friend so I sat with her and helped as much as possible with what I knew from my own breastfeeding experiences. I went back to the United States amazed by how poorly women were served, even in the most expensive birthing facilities available. That is when I decided to pursue becoming an IBCLC.
Five years ago, my family and I moved back to Mexico and I was ready to help. There was very little lactation support available in my community and few people were aware of how IBCLCs could impact breastfeeding for mothers and babies. While studying to meet the requirements for certification, I worked for free at a local hospital in Guadalajara. The use of formula for infants was “protocol” in my facility and a representative of a formula company regularly did “lactation rounds” in the hospital. I was diligent in my efforts to meet with mothers just after this representative had visited their room and support moms and babies while combating the poor information she had given. I would help the mother and baby latch-on after 10-20 hrs of separation with their babies, fully fed with bottles and formula. Before long, patients began coming to the hospital asking for my help. Not long after, the formula representative simply quit coming and I was left with the whole maternity floor to myself! This is how pediatricians and OB’s started to trust me, call me and even consult with me. I soon began my own private practice. With the contact hours I was afforded at the hospital and in my practice, I applied for my IBCLC exam and in October 2009, I earn my certification.
As my practice grew, I began noticing that a large number of mothers were wanting to breastfeed but lacked support and the adequate tools. Our country of 120 million people is experiencing a significant lack of IBCLC care (ed. note: IBLCE notes that, as of April 2012, there are 19 IBCLCs in the entire country). I began to contacting those in the community with the power to effect change, asking them how we could provide more support to Mexico’s mothers and babies. One said to me, “I see your passion about breastfeeding and I can see how important it is for babies and mother’s. I think we have to do something about it”. We recognized together that increasing breastfeeding rates could have a significant impact on Mexico!
We now have a lovely breastfeeding clinic in Guadalajara and we hope to open 14 more throughout Mexico. We are also launching an educational campaign on social media to educate moms and empower them in regards to their breastfeeding “powers” and rights. We are setting up a nationwide breastfeeding call center and we are negotiating with private insurers to provide breastfeeding benefits for all their clients. We are starting to see wonderful momentum from mothers who are finding the kind of support they deserve. We are devoted to giving to our beautiful country smarter, healthier, and more attached babies, mothers and families.
I think all IBCLCs need to find the power in their passion. We are saving lives every day. We are the soldiers, fighting for infants’ lives and we need to stand tall in every corner of the world. I always tell my trainees, “If we do our jobs right today, we can save families from difficulties or problems they will never know thanks to breastfeeding”.