Posts Tagged ‘La Leche League’
Medicalization of breastfeeding is fueled by the language used to define the profession of lactation consultancy. At the dawn of the profession, La Leche League leaders, who are experienced breastfeeding mothers, were helping other mothers by sharing information and real-life experiences about breastfeeding. When the idea to professionalize breastfeeding was born, several phenomena happened: a) the profession was named after a physiological bodily process; b) action-0riented language that uses verbs got replaced with object-oriented language that uses nouns.
This shift in language, and later in the practice of supporting women, reduced the holistic approach of helping women within the context of women’s lives to supervision and management of a physiological process that seemingly takes place outside of women’s body’s, independently from women’s lives. This approach is not woman-friendly and has a long documented history of damage to women.
How can this be? Maybe, it’s in the name.
Lactation is secretion or formation of milk by the mammary gland. Therefore lactation consultants are focused on precisely manipulation of secretion, production or extraction of milk. Judging by the texts about breastfeeding written for the medical professionals, there is indeed an unhealthy obsession with the milk. It comes as no surprise that many women in Western hospitals are coerced to use a breast pump or hand express milk (a recent fad in lactation field) instead of concentrating their efforts on nursing at the breast. It’s no wonder that many private lactation consultants find themselves to be more of breast pump dealers than breastfeeding helpers.
With its roots in La Leche League, the occupation of a lactation consultant started out more as a breastfeeding consultant. La Leche League places the strongest emphasis on a mother-baby relationship, not on breastmilk. Over 70% of people who sat for the first in history lactation consultant certification exam were La Leche League Leaders. The second year the exam was administered the percentage of LLL Leaders dropped to just 40%. From then on most of the lactation consultants have been medical professionals, not the mothers experienced in breastfeeding.
Why does it matter? Breastfeeding is a social practice that thrives in a certain environment. Breastfeeding is something that women do. La Leche League have been the environment that made breastfeeding possible. Pay a very close attention to the fact that it was not an individual LLL Leader who was saving the day. It was a group of women that were tremendously successful in making breastfeeding work for anybody who would immerse themselves in the nurturing atmosphere for as little as one hour once a month.
Can a lactation consultant accomplish the same thing? No, she can’t. The environment of a hospital is smothering to breastfeeding. A lactation consultant is but a tiny screw in a huge medical machine that can do very little in a short rushed visit to a postpartum ward within the constraints imposed by the hospital policies. Breastfeeding needs time to flourish and maneuver. It cannot be rushed. A hospital isn’t a place for such frivolities. Hospitals thrive on efficiency and measurement. Since we can’t measure and optimize breastfeeding, we can do it with breastmilk. It can be weighed and measured. It can be extracted on a schedule. A mother doesn’t even have to be involved, because we can manage her milk for her. Breastmilk conforms to what the medical field finds manageable within its realm. Breastfeeding, like birth, is much too wild and unruly for the hospital to handle. “Here’s you a breastpump. Use it every three hours.”
If your vision of breastfeeding is pumps and bottles, head on to a lactation consultant. For those of you aiming to nurse at the breast, find some women who breastfeed or go to a La Leche League meeting.