I am an LLL Leader. And recently I became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). It took a lot of work and dedication, and frankly, bloody mindedness, not dissimilar to that of a breastfeeding mother; that fire in the belly that drives you on.
In the 1980’s LLL recognise the need for a professional qualification in Lactation. It was an opportunity for their Leaders to be recognised as being the leading voices in supporting breastfeeding mothers, and now it has become internationally recognised. The qualification is open to medical practitioners as well as volunteers from other breastfeeding organisations.
I have been so focused on getting this qualification, that maybe I’ve failed to pause and look round at my new profession enough. I am so unbelievably proud to now call myself an IBCLC. And yet, perhaps I had, naively, not appreciated the range of opinions and diversity in my colleagues who share my qualification, in what is considered breastfeeding support. And I do understand that that can be a good thing; the world is a big place, and we are all different. I hope we are all united in the same goal; to support women and babies. I get that LLL does not appeal to everyone. Our philosophies stand us apart from other breastfeeding charities; as does our drive to advocate for the baby in all situations. I’ve been reflecting on how my 2 ‘hats’ fit with each other; the challenges wearing both may create.
Truthfully, I had not probably not acknowledged how engrained the LLL philosophies are in me. Maybe I have actually immersed myself so much in LLL ways that I had forgotten there are other ways. I needed them to be challenged, in order for me to defend them to others, and probably myself.
Perhaps these issues are bigger than I realised; we often live busy lifestyles, mothers choose to return to work, we do not all have the ‘luxury’ of slowing down and tuning in to our babies. And perhaps this is the saddest bit, that these tiny defenceless babies are born and expected to fit into our lives, to follow our sleep patterns, to self settle, to separate from us so we can resume our careers, our nights out, our lives. Our culture is not about tuning into our babies; about realistic expectations of sleep, and frankly parenthood; the relentless, the exhaustion of being that child’s constant. And that is not the parents fault, it is the failing of our changing society, not individuals. But I do wonder if it means that some are missing the true value of mothering through breastfeeding, and ultimately being able to trust this, wonderful, process. Maybe some parents having already been in a minority of having succesfully navigated the minefield of establishing breastfeeding, are able to do this for a while, but then maybe those cultural voices about what the baby ‘should’ be doing win out, and they contemplate others ways to do things; to get the babies to sleep more, feed differently, fit a schedule.
Mothering through breastfeeding came as a bit of a shock to me. I had been a nanny; I thought I knew it all. I’d looked after, mothered if you like, lots of children in the absence of their own parents. But when my own babies were born, I realised I now had an extra tool to my belt; my boobs! I’d wanted to breastfeed, but I’d failed to understand that breastfeeding was so much more than just food. It calmed my babies, it soothed them, it put them to sleep. It brought me breathing space. Neither of my experiences were straightforward, but I persisted, because something inside me told me this was worth it. Breastfeeding was so important in easing me into motherhood; the power and overwhelmingness that I was the only one who could do this for my babies. But I understand too, the pain when it is not straightforward, the anxiety of questioning our instincts, when it is not all easy, the bad days, the loneliness, the unease. Having worked so tirelessly to make breastfeeding work, I was happy to be not only my child’s food source, but their teddy bear too; I never felt the need to introduce an alternate comforter; it was me. I was (mostly) happy to say no to those nights out with friends, I (mostly) didn’t mind I was the only one who could settle them. Some nights were long, and after shaky starts I did doubt myself. Somehow, before I discovered LLL, I sensed those days were fleeting, and would soon be over. I had wonderful supportive friends who shared my thoughts, and no doubt spurred me on. And I was confident that by following my instincts I was raising tiny humans who would be secure. This will not suit everyone, but it suited me, and I’m so grateful my husband and I choose and continue to choose to parent the way we do. Honestly, breastfeeding is one of my greatest achievements, and I know I’m not alone in feeling like that.
My recent experiences have made me realise how my practice as an IBCLC will always be woven with LLL philosophy, I will always be an LLL Leader first, and I’m blooming proud of that. To some extent this defines me as a professional, and some would suggest it is truly the backbone for the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). While I will of course, support a family to reach their own goals and read each situation as individual, finding the right way for them, but I think those 10 philosophies will always be in the back of my mind and bring a richness to my practice, as I empathise, support and encourage each family.
Breastfeeding is bloody hard work. But actually, so is parenting, and I honestly believe breastfeeding gives us a solution, not creates us a problem.