Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

People with experience should not apply…

with 2 comments

“IBCLC may or may not have personal breastfeeding experience. We concluded that personal experience does not matter for a lactation consultant”, – said Linda Smith in an interview for Russian breastfeeding consultants. An analogy about male gynecologists followed.
What stark discrepancy between the birth of the profession and what it has become! I find it peculiar that a group of women who acquired profoundly deep knowledge of breastfeeding first and foremost through personal experience decided that personal experience was irrelevant for a professional lactation consultant. It is doubly surprising to say that experience is of no importance for a lactation consultant to a group of breastfeeding consultants whose requirement for professional certification includes not one, but two years of breastfeeding experience.  It is even more puzzling to see a Russian lactation consultant broadcast and promote this non-experiential approach in the country where breastfeeding experience was the foundation of a professional breastfeeding consultancy.
Why does this happen? Why do women who gained breastfeeding knowledge through personal experience all of a sudden turn tables and say that personal experience is of no consequence when it was obviously largely consequential for them?

First of all, one must realize that professionals are concerned with promotion of their profession, not the service to the public, as the number one goal. In order to promote the profession of lactation consultants, one must deny or at least undermine the validity of knowledge and expert skills that women as a group gain in the course of personal breastfeeding. Why? It order to be accepted in the medical circles a new professional must play by the rules of the game set up by medicine – impartial, scientific, bio-medical framework of thought and action.

There are several mechanisms that IBCLCs use to devalue highly personal breastfeeding experience. One is the explicit lack of requirement to have personal breastfeeding experience. It is, in my opinion, the most damaging mechanism to devalue personal and collective women’s expertise and knowledge of breastfeeding and to elevate the knowledge of an IBCLC who may and often does lack first-hand breastfeeding experience. The second mechanism is to describe breastfeeding in biomedical terms. Talking about breastfeeding in a technical language takes the knowledge away from women who describe breastfeeding in colloquial words that carry a lot of meaning and do not confine breastfeeding experience to biomedical facts and protocol.

The analogy with historically male obstetricians and gynecologists is a poor one to advocate for a profession that makes a claim of service to women. Large body of scientific research documented the damaging effect of male interference in a traditionally female  field of midwifery. Medicalization of pregnancy and childbirth is a layed out in real life scenario of what should not be done. Yet the profession of lactation consultant decided to step on the same treacherous road that inevitably leads to the same results as medicalization of pregnancy and birth – undermining of women and their knowledge.

More insight is needed into the factors that influence decisions to do what has been documented as harmful to women’s well-being, status, and health in society. Is it genuine belief that medicalization will be good for women? Is it desire to gain status for traditionally female activity that was devalued? Is it personal quest for fame? Is it greed? Is it lack of foresight? Is it lack of general education to place one’s professional work in a societal context?

“The [IBCLC] profession developed along medical lines and therefore runs the risk of further medicalizing infant feeding, by hijacking women’s knowledge and making it their own, thereby creating a need for professional management where once women held the knowledge and managed by themselves.

Beasley, A. (1993). Lactation consultants and the risk of medicalising breastfeeding. Issues, 3(2), 16–19.

Ryan, K., Grace., V. (2001).  Medicalization and women’s knowledge: the construction of understanding of infant feeding experiences in post-WWII New Zealand. Health Care for Women International , 22:483–500.


Written by Medical Nemesis

August 13, 2012 at 12:42

2 Responses

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  1. I understand where u are coming from but I want you to know that some times an “outside opinions” can see what someone inside the situation doesn’t. I had access to 2 IBCLC’s. One who breastfed 6 children and one that has no children nor breastfed. I preferred the one that had no children. So she is better at finding things to help, because she isn’t going of personal experience but medical knowledge, experience in a setting helping women, informational research and articles, and years of IBCLC experience. Sometimes using what we know worked for us will not work with mist people. Having a broad knowledge of up-to-date care is better that 6 children worth of experience. Obviously it made her passionate. Obviously it makes many of us passionate but that doesn’t always translate in to good care practices.

    • I have a counter story of an IBCLC without any children helping others in a healthcare setting. Perhaps, she was even good at it. When she had her baby she was a miserable failure in breastfeeding until a minority woman with breastfeeding experience, lack of medical knowledge and access to research helped her get started. Go figure!

      There are women who respond very well to abstract medicinal information. Perhaps, you are one of them. You think that breastfeeding is medical in nature and requires medical information. It is a good match between your ideology of breastfeeding and that of your favorite IBCLC.

      Natalie Gerbeda-Wilson

      October 28, 2014 at 06:23

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To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

Breast. No Bottle.

To nurse, or not to nurse: that is not a question!

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