Having knowledgeable professionals is integral to supporting parents, but what if the people that need it have no financial recourse to access it? And what if the people offering it require payment?...The ramblings of a not so happy IBCLC on IBCLC day.
I have been a volunteer breastfeeding counsellor for 5 years. Once I discovered my own passion for breastfeeding and helping other mothers to reach their own breastfeeding goals, I decided that this volunteer role was something I could manage alongside raising a young family. It hasn't always been easy, and there's definitely been an element of juggling priorities, learning boundaries, and managing burnout, but it's been an extremely rewarding job to have. At some point along my parenting and volunteering journey, it became apparent to my husband and I that I was going to have to consider paid employment. The years on one income were beginning to take a toll, and as the children grew, the needs of our family were changing. Going back to my old career of business marketing filled me with anxiety (if you know the person I've grown into then you'll understand how misaligned this was for the person I'd since become), and the thought of having to drop my volunteer role filled me with sadness. Thankfully, the idea of furthering my education and becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), seemed a legit career path for me; I could make a living out of my passion.
I spent the next few years working towards that qualification. I spent close to £3,000 to get myself this qualification (and it was only this low because I had many courses as a result of a pre-med degree I started out doing in a previous life). I was (un)fortunate enough to receive some money from the selling of my now deceased grandmother's estate, so I put that towards it, and then once I achieved the IBCLC status, I invested another £2000 to get my private practice going. All-in-all, I'm now about £5,000 down from where I was when I decided I needed to start making money to contribute to the family income. Now this blog can go many ways. I've had this ^^ going around my head for a while and it always branches off into various internal ramblings of the devaluing of mothers, of the barriers to highly educated breastfeeding support, of the look at why there are so few IBCLCs within the more underprivileged demographics, of the politics of breastfeeding. But today I've woken up and my head has gotten stuck on this one...the cost of breastfeeding support to all families involved.
Having spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy trying to raise funds to support parents through my volunteer role, I can say the politics of funding is real, and unfortunately money to support breastfeeding isn't flowing out to the community (if it even exists). The truth of the matter is that our government and our healthcare system currently expects parents to rely on breastfeeding support from minimally trained healthcare staff while relying heavily on volunteer support to pull off the rest. "What's the problem with this," I hear you say. Well, I could just show you the statistics, they don't paint a pretty picture..., but instead I'm going to step up on my soapbox. Many parents aren't aware of the varying levels of breastfeeding qualifications amongst professionals, and it's not information that seems to be forthcoming from people on the front-line. They don't realise that a BFI trained NHS health professional may have a few hours of breastfeeding education, whereas an IBCLC will have several years (amongst other requirements), and that there are a whole range of professionals with varying levels of education that fall between those two roles. It's true that in some trusts you may find a qualified IBCLC holding an infant feeding role, but it is also the case that many trusts are lacking this person, and whichever area you fall into is a complete lottery. It may also be the case that one day your trust has that person and the next day they don't. If you are one of the ones that can access an IBCLC through your local NHS system, then consider yourself lucky, and anytime someone so much as utters the phrase to you that breastfeeding isn't about luck, then set them straight. However, if you are one of the ones that can't access an IBCLC through the local NHS, well, the cost of knowledgeable breastfeeding support falls to you, the parent. Do you have the money to pay for support? What is the value of breastfeeding to you, the individual? What is the value of breastfeeding to our society? If you value it, does that value equate to you being able to afford the cost of it? Should breastfeeding support be something available only to those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford it?
What am I playing at? Writing a blog that undermines my own private IBCLC practice? Why don't I just shut up and go work for the NHS then? As a parent of a young family, I can't go back to full-time paid employment without leaving my children. It's a "choice" that I've made to stay home and raise my children and fit my work around them. To continue to stay in my volunteer role and offer a high level of breastfeeding support to parents would mean that I would have to sacrifice my own family's needs, but on the contrary, to choose to go back to paid employment would mean the loss of that breastfeeding knowledge back into the corporate world, where I'd likely waste my 5 years of education and energy on spreadsheets and office meetings. Ironically, at least there I would be seen to be making a contribution to society. I will have left my children to be raised by someone else, I will have left the parents seeking breastfeeding support without breastfeeding support but I would suddenly be of value to our society. This is our world: two sides to this equation that doesn't seem to be balancing out. Parents who shouldn't have to pay and professionals who require payment. We can see the value of both sides, but this value doesn't bring us any money. Is there a solution to make us all winners? Hmm... is there? I don't have any to offer. Like a rather anti-climactic movie, I seem to have rambled on or too long to then only leave you hanging with no solutions to this rather complex conundrum.
I'm sitting here on my side of the equation, with very little recourse to do more than continue supporting parents the only way I know how, in a paid role that falls to the responsibility of the parent(s) to pay for. I do this, because I too would like to continue nurturing my relationship with my own children. I see that what I have to offer is of some value, even if our society doesn't agree with me. I continue to offer volunteer support, so that I can try to meet the needs of those who can not afford care through a private practice, but I realise not all practitioners can do this, nor may I always have the privilege to do it myself. I continue to ask parents to pay for their care while simultaneously working to push our government to change its policies around this so that one day they may not have to. Most days I remain hopeful of change, but today I stare at my small debt collecting in my bank account, I listen to the amazingly loud silence from our government on the subject, and I sift through the Happy IBCLC Day posts on my social media pages whilst grunting very loudly in annoyance and frustration; it's something that my friends and family seem to hear me do fairly regularly these days.
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