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Embracing the ILCA Sisterhood

By Indira Lopez-Bassols, BA with hons, MPP, IBCLC

My first encounter with the International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA) was in the form of an email when I had just become an IBCLC. It was invitation to a trial membership, which of course I accepted. Although I did look around the articles online and found the information sheets invaluable, I thought naively that it looked like an interesting AMERICAN organization but too far across the Atlantic sea to be valuable to me in Great Britain.

A set of coincidences allowed me to embrace ILCA and become an avid fan! My inlaws celebrated their Jubilee anniversary in Tampa, Florida in July 2012. I had received the information about the 2012 ILCA Conference which looked amazing but again seemed quite unreachable. But then it clicked to me that I was going to be in Tampa just a few days before the conference in Orlando!

My first moves were to see if I could fit the days into our itinerary, enroll as a member of ILCA to get a great deal for the conference, and apply to Lactation Consultants Great Britain (LCGB) for some funding. All three tasks were completed quickly and successfully and I was off to Orlando for the conference. It was mind blowing! Luck was on my side as the oral skills sessions were full as I had signed so late so I attended the Spanish sessions, which I thought were incredibly well presented.

In the first session I actually sat next to Roberta Graham de Escobedo, without realizing the role she played on the ILCA Board of Directors. She was so welcoming and warm, no wonder she is in charge of ILCA memberships!

I remember thinking after the morning session, “This has already been so worth it! Thank be to God for all these coincidences!” The following day were the plenaries and I just could not believe how so many people together could share the same interest and passion as me!

I said hello to people I had met in the past and enjoyed all the networking from the International delegate gathering and meeting the Hispanic community. Being Mexican, married to a Peruvian/Italian/American citizen, having lived all over the world because my father was a Diplomat, and now residing in the UK, you can imagine how I feel like a true citizen of the world.

I came out of the conference feeling exhilarated, refreshed and uplifted. There are around 26,000 IBCLCs working around the world today, and only 423 of those are in the UK. The National Health Service has yet to recognize us so although there is a lot of work to be done nationally, it sometimes feel we are riding solo into the battle. I was really impressed as the group of IBCLCs in Orlando felt like a more cohesive united group with a true international presence from different fronts.

I swore that, if in the future, I had money to attend breastfeeding conferences, my priority would be on those produced by ILCA. The following year after I attended, I revisited the ILCA website to stay connected and read voraciously every Journal of Human Lactation I received through my subscription.

Jill Dye, Director of LCGB and Indira

Jill Dye, Director of LCGB and Indira

There are coincidences in life and we use them to craft our destiny. My next set of coincidences came in the form of another email I received, a reminder about the ILCA conference scholarships. I had no idea ILCA offered any type of scholarship. I still thought the 2013 conference in Melbourne, Australia was way too far away and expensive, so I didn’t imagine I could attend, even in my wildest dreams. But, I took a risk and emailed Glenna Thurston, who was in charge of ILCA Membership Development, to ask her about the application form and process as I might apply in the future to another ILCA Conference in the US which is closer and more accessible economically to London. Glenna kindly explained the process but did encourage me to apply to Melbourne anyway. I did so and was awarded a scholarship! I again applied to LCGB for a bit extra funding and I was able to cover airfare and the remainder of the conference fee. To make my trip possible, a friend of a friend that lived in Melbourne kindly opened his home for that week.

Two consecutive years, I was able to attend the ILCA Conference and I felt like I was in heaven. I enjoyed tremendously the whole experience. Before the conference started, I went on the guided tour to the Sanctuary where we saw Australian native species and learned about some of their mammal’s breastfeeding experiences. One of the IBCLCs shared that kangaroos make pink milk but none of the zoologists onsite could confirm that for us.

I enjoyed most of the sessions that I attended and found Linda Smith to be a wonderful presenter with a great sense of humor. Influenced by her, I will definitely be adding more humor to my teaching and presentations in the future. Nils Bergman’s presentation was also fantastic and particularly useful to have science affirm what we have known for millennia about attachment and separation.

This year, I, like many others, volunteered to help out at the Conference. I was a bit nervous the first time I stood in front of everybody to introduce the speaker but soon it became second nature. I had a strong gut feeling that, although I am, like we say in Spanish still a bit “fresh like a lettuce”, the day will come that I will be a presenter.

The pinnacle of the Melbourne Conference for me was a session I attended as part of the Oral Skills rotating session on supporting mothers with voluptuous breasts, presented Gini Baker and Decalie Brown. Gini asked for two volunteers to pretend they had voluptuous breasts and were having breastfeeding problems.It was slightly embarrassing but on the funny side as she made us feel all so comfortable. She reminded us gently that we were all on the same boat: the sisterhood. That was a highlight, an “aha” moment for me. It is truly a wonderful sisterhood, as we all speak the same language, we are all passionate about what we do, we are fanatics about supporting breastfeeding families, and most important of all: united we are stronger!

Joining ILCA is much more than getting a membership. It is also about being a part of the sisterhood of wise, passionate, bright women that are changing the world one breastfeeding baby and mother at a time.

If after reading this article you have been gently persuaded to become an ILCA member, please mention me through the Each One Reach One Campaign. The purpose of this campaign is to increase membership by spreading the word. Who knows? Your support may help me to attend a third ILCA Conference in the future.

Indira Lopez-Bassols, B.A. with Hons, M.P.P. and IBCLC, works in private practice in London and at Kings College Hospital Tongue Tie Clinic.   In addition, she leads the La Leche League Wimbledon group.  In combination with her doula work and her passion for teaching, she also offers breastfeeding study for doulas.  In her scare free time, she enjoys writing about birth and breastfeeding and has published in several related magazines.  She was awarded the 2013 ILCA scholarship to attend the organization’s annual conference in Melbourne, Australia.  For more information, visit: www.indirayoga.com


World Breastfeeding Week 2013: The Response to Crisis and Emergency Circle of Support

During World Breastfeeding Week 2013, we will be highlighting the work of lactation professionals in each of the 5 Circles of Support mentioned in this year’s theme ~ Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers. Each weekday during this celebratory week, we will be shining the light on innovative and exciting models of care in each of these areas. Check back everyday for more encouraging examples of breastfeeding supporters being close to mothers.

Ali Maclaine, UK

photo 2Ali Maclaine is currently the Senior Humanitarian Nutrition Advisor for Save the Children based in London. Save the Children works in 120 countries worldwide and in many of the emergency affected countries, they are undertaking breastfeeding support through their Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) program. The level of support varies from messaging, group education sessions, or peer support to one-on-one counseling. As well as providing support themselves, Save the Children often works with partners and undertakes trainings so that others can also learn about the life-saving importance of breastfeeding, especially in emergencies. She shared with us the following responses.

This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme is “Breastfeeding Support: Close to Mothers”. The organizers have identified 5 Circles of Support that are critical for breastfeeding mothers in our world and one of those circles is “Response to Crisis and Emergency”. Can you describe for us a bit about the work you are currently doing in the field of lactation to support breastfeeding mothers in crisis? How did you become involved in this work? When emergencies happen, what might a day of support look like?

Following the completion of my Masters in Public Health Nutrition, I was a Consultant on a report called ‘Cracking the Code’ that looked at violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes worldwide. This work increased my interest in breastfeeding. My first field placement with Save the Children was following the 2006 conflict in Lebanon. I saw how an influx of donations of breastmilk substitutes were undermining breastfeeding. I also saw the effects of common myths and misconceptions on breastfeeding and the lack of skilled breastfeeding support. During that crisis and in all the others I have worked in subsequently (Philippines, Indonesia, Haiti, East Africa, Syria, etc), the thing that I see is that breastfeeding mothers and their support circle often do not know how robust breastfeeding is. They instead seek formula to ease the burden of the breastfeeding. Many kind hearted people give formula as they want to help babies in emergencies but are not aware of the risks of artificial feeding during an emergency. Breastfeeding saves lives.

However, I have also seen many mothers who have sought breastfeeding support during emergencies and have not been able to find it – either the health workers have disappeared, are too busy, or they are not trained about the emergency aspects of breastfeeding. They often repeat the normal breastfeeding messages which do not have the impact or relevance during an emergency. For example, families are often encouraged to exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months when, in reality, they simply need to get through the next 24 hours while caring for their family in a shelter.

Where we have the funding to have dedicated IYCF-E activities, we are able to provide key messages to mothers and into the wider community. We also provide mother-baby caravans/areas where mothers can go to breastfeed, meet other mothers and access skilled breastfeeding support, as well as be a part of educational sessions. There is also support for relactation and wet nursing.

The World Breastfeeding Week organizers stated “This circle of support represents the need for support if a woman finds herself in an unexpected and/or serious situation, with little control. Situations that require special planning and support could include natural disasters, refugee camps, divorce proceedings, critical illness of mother or baby, or living in an area of high HIV/AIDS prevalence with no support for breastfeeding.” Can you expand a bit on what some of the unique challenges are that breastfeeding women and babies who are in crisis face?

Breastfeeding women and babies have a number of challenges during emergencies:

  • There are often a huge number of additional myths and misconceptions that undermine breastfeeding during conflicts. Common emergency related myths/misconceptions are: Stress drying up breastmilk, lack of food or change of food negatively affecting breastfeeding, tension or even grief being passed on to the baby.
  • Many of the countries that we are currently working in are Muslim and populations are commonly displaced. Muslim mothers often will not breastfeed in public or even in tents, which they may share with other men. Hence, there needs to be dedicated private breastfeeding spaces.
  • Often there are huge donations and untargeted distributions of breastmilk substitutes (often labeled in the wrong language or near/past use-by-date) which are given to caregivers, and even to breastfeeding mothers. We have found that if a mother is given these, she is much more likely to use it and that it can then lead to breastfeeding difficulties and undermines breastfeeding. Often, these donations are only given for a short time, meaning that as her breastmilk supply has been affected, the mother has to then find formula and the money to continue to feed her child.
  • People often think that when the volume of breastmilk is diminishing, it can’t be increased. They mistakenly believe that there is no hope for increasing the supply that might have been impacted by the crisis.
  • There is often a lack of skilled support for breastfeeding mothers in emergencies. The health workers may have also been affected by the emergency, may be taking care of their own families, and there may be a lack of health workers who have been trained on breastfeeding before the emergency.
  • There is a lack of funding for programs to support breastfeeding in emergencies. Donors pay lip-service about the importance of breastfeeding but don’t give the money.
  • Communities often do not prioritize breastfeeding support during emergencies as a NEED. This is an issue we are increasingly looking at as “accountability to beneficiaries” is a key issue and we must prioritize our emergency responses based on what the community says it needs. Whilst this works in terms of shelter and water, I think that this methodology is flawed for identifying the need for breastfeeding support. The community leaders are rarely women and culturally, it would be difficult in some circumstances for women to tell their community leaders/outsiders about the need for breastfeeding support.

The challenges and need for support for women in crisis is ongoing. But there is hope! What are some of the most recent initiatives that have made breastfeeding for women in crisis easier? What are your hopes for the future?

Save the Children is creating an IYCF-E Toolkit, which it is hoping to get input in from other NGOs including those from the IFE Core Group which should ensure that we can provide breastfeeding support in a quality way quickly in emergencies. We also have partners who have undertaken work on the psycho-social support needs of breastfeeding mothers in emergencies that all agencies are trying to learn from.

My hope for the future is that health and nutrition workers in emergency prone countries are taught about breastfeeding in emergencies during their training so that they are equipped to support mothers during the additional stress of an emergency. Also,  that during an emergency, breastfeeding support is regarded as part of our key work – that every person that works in the field in an emergency response is aware of the need and how to support breastfeeding mothers. I hope that we are systematically able to provide the quality support that breastfeeding mothers need in that context.


Stories from 2013 Exam Hopefuls: Krista Gray

Lactation Matters is in the midst of a series of blog posts, from now until July when the 2013 exam to certify IBCLCs is given. As we seek to increase access to the services of IBCLCs, cheering on those who are taking up the challenge should be celebrated! If you are a 2013 exam hopeful and would like to share a bit with us about what inspired you to become an IBCLC, please email us at lactationmatters@gmail.com.

2012-05-25 23.35.32I grew up knowing I would breastfeed. It’s not that I remember seeing it much as a child but my mother always portrayed it as normal and I just thought that’s what mother,s did. When I became pregnant with my first child at 30, I realized that most mothers I knew didn’t breastfeed and there was a huge lack of support for breastfeeding as well as a social stigma attached to public breastfeeding in our western culture.  I read every book I could while pregnant about birth and breastfeeding and took to heart what a doula friend told me: My chances of succeeding at breastfeeding were directly correlated with how many bottles I had in my house.

My daughter arrived and breastfeeding, for the most part, was pretty easy.  There were a few bumps in the beginning – her latch hurt, we were in a huge transition moving internationally, and I became worried about my milk supply – but in talking to a wonderful IBCLC, my fears were put to rest and our breastfeeding relationship continued for nearly two years, when I became pregnant with twins.

I was living in Egypt and planning to return to the US for their birth when I spontaneously went into labor 7 ½ weeks early.  Not only were they premature, but they were also breech, so I had an emergency c-section whereby I was put under general anesthetic.  Though I was sad at how their birth had turned out, it made me even more determined to succeed at breastfeeding.  Their neonatologist was cautiously supportive of my desire to breastfeed, though he never thought my determination would last.  At 32 weeks, 3 days gestation they were able to coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing, though they were losing weight at the breast.  I was heavily pressured to “fortify” my milk both from our doctor in Egypt as well as in the States.  I never did supplement, but I also will never forget the emotions and pressure I felt and can definitely empathize with other moms in the same situation.

When my twins were just six days old, we decided to bring them home from the hospital.  The next two months were a blur of sleepless nights as I tried to breastfeed, pump, give bottles, clean/sterilize bottles…the routine would take 2 hours and I’d have one hour before starting all over again 24/7.  I became exhausted, but having nursed a baby before, I knew how easy it could be.  Around the time they reached 40 weeks gestation, it really did become easier.  They were both at the breast exclusively and I packed up my pump hoping I’d never have to look at it again!

In the meantime, their neonatologist in Egypt was very pleased with their growth and asked if I would consider volunteering at the hospital to encourage Egyptian mothers to breastfeed.  This is where my dream of becoming an IBCLC began.  In volunteering with new moms, as well as studying lactation coursework, I quickly realized mother-to-mother support groups were needed.  I became certified as a La Leche League leader and planned to bring everything together working as an LLL leader and IBCLC in Egypt.

With the political revolution and ensuing turmoil throughout the region, our family relocated to the UK.  We continue to work with immigrant populations, including a large Arabic-speaking population.  I am currently co-leading an LLL group as well as providing lactation support among the immigrant community.  I am excited to be sitting for the exam in July and still can hardly believe the last four years of planning and preparation are coming together!  As an IBCLC, I hope to advocate for qualified lactation support for all mothers as well as continuing to serve women through leading mother-to-mother support groups and private lactation consulting.


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