Updated: Dec 31, 2019
My Dreams for Breastfeeding Therapy during this Next Decade?
To help fill a GAP in Feeding Therapy and Pediatric Therapy by increasing support for ALL families, whatever their infant feeding goals may be. In the therapy world, this means increasing our breastfeeding knowledge and support in practice.
In creating The Breastfeeding Therapist, my desire is to elucidate the gap in therapeutic services for breastfeeding infants and their mothers/families that I see in my community, and know to also be present in other communities. In practice, my desire is to fill this gap by providing Breastfeeding Therapy. By elucidating and filling this gap, and advocating for more therapeutic support for breastfeeding/lactating families, I am NOT advocating for the decrease of therapeutic support for non-breastfeeding/lactating families. They are not mutually exclusive goals or desires. Instead, I am advocating that ALL families be supported in their feeding goals. And in the therapy world, fully supporting all families with feeding, equates to increasing breastfeeding support as there is a significant gap. Most feeding therapists do not have extensive knowledge in breastfeeding and lactation.
In the therapy world, there already is support for alternative feeding families. And that is Feeding Therapy. (A much needed and valuable specialized service.)
Breastfeeding Missing in Feeding Therapy: A Gap in Support
Feeding Therapy is a whole specialization focused on supporting infants with feeding. And while ideally breastfeeding would be included in this specialization, in practice it isn't-- at least it isn't often and is not the norm. (There are exceptions of course!) This is due to many reasons such as personal experiences and biases, known and unknown to the feeding therapist, as well as lack of formal education and learning opportunities in practice. (This is not a phenomenon belonging only to feeding therapists, but rather, is true of most healthcare disciplines.)
Theoretically and intellectually, breastfeeding is supported by most, if not all, feeding therapists and therapists working with babies. However in practice, this is not an area that most feeding therapists/pediatric therapists feel competent in. It does not make sense that healthcare professionals specializing in women and infants are not adequately trained to help families breastfeed.
Including Breastfeeding Therapy in Practice
It especially does not make much sense considering most new families desire to breastfeed and many initiate breastfeeding with hopes of achieving long term breastfeeding goals, that unfortunately the majority of families are not supported enough to achieve.
Thus, it behooves therapists working with infants and mothers to include breastfeeding/lactation support or breastfeeding therapy in their practice.
Providing Breastfeeding support does not require that a feeding therapist need also be an IBCLC. It does mean that feeding therapists should seek additional breastfeeding education and training beyond what their formal training provided so that they can, in the least, do no harm, when providing feeding therapy to breastfeeding families. At best, feeding therapists would have an advanced knowledge of breastfeeding able to completely support most breastfeeding families with feeding challenges so that they can achieve their long term breastfeeding/lactation goals.
Breastfeeding Support Re-Envisioned = Therapists are Key
I hope for a time when ALL babies and parents are fully supported in whatever their infant feeding goals are. A time where public health messaging promoting breastfeeding, and actual, real life ground support for it, are comparable. (Rather than the current situation, where public health messaging promotes a narrow concept of breastfeeding, without ensuring that there is adequate, practical support for all mothers and babies who want to breastfeed. This phenomenon unfortunately often results in unnecessary and unfair guilt for families who were not supported enough in their breastfeeding/lactation goals.)
As an occupational therapist specializing in breastfeeding, I envision therapists playing a vital role in this change. I see us evolving breastfeeding/lactation support and elevating breastfeeding/lactation support within our own practices. As therapists providing ongoing support that usually includes multiple visits with families a month, we see families more than any other healthcare provider (in the US anyway). And often the families we work with, who require therapeutic services, are also the same families who more likely will require ongoing Breastfeeding Therapy support, rather than a once or twice breastfeeding/lactation consult. Our opportunity to support families in achieving their breastfeeding goals is great!
Hopefully one day ALL families, breastfeeding and alternative feeding, ALL feeding, will have the support they need, want and deserve.