As baby formula shortages persist, breastfeeding education gets a boost
A new lactation-training program at MSU Denver prepares students to support nursing moms.
In February, a nationwide recall of baby formula sent parents of infants into crisis mode, frantically searching store shelves and the internet to find food for their babies.
As the shortage drags on, some argue that mothers who are struggling to find formula should “just breastfeed.” But it’s not that simple, said Jennifer Bolton, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Nutrition at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“You could make the same analogy that if you have a car available and you need to get somewhere, just drive,’” said Bolton, a registered dietitian and board-certified lactation consultant. “Well, if you don’t know how to drive, you can’t ‘just drive.’ You need somebody to teach you.”
What’s more, moms who’ve struggled with breastfeeding may need extra support.
“Breastfeeding is 100% supply and demand,” Bolton said. “If breast milk is not removed from the breasts, then production goes down. And if moms are starting to supplement because they haven’t received the help and support they need, then they require a lot of help and support to get their production back.”
Preparing more health professionals to provide that support to nursing mothers is the goal of a new lactation-training program launching this fall at MSU Denver. It will be the only one in the state that prepares students to become international board-certified lactation consultants.
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Bolton and Amanda Ogden, R.N., an affiliate faculty member and fellow certified lactation consultant, have been dreaming up a lactation certification program for well over a decade. Their vision? Creating a curriculum that guides students toward being patient-support professionals and working in health care settings to support infant feeding throughout the first several years of life.
“In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, breastfeeding fell out of favor,” said Ogden. Pediatricians get no training on normal feeding, she added, and neither do obstetricians. “So, long before there was the IBCLC credential, there were just nurses doing their best but without really any knowledge unless they had breastfed their own kids.”
Ogden is also the co-founder of Denver’s Mama’hood, a supportive community space for moms and families. Her main goal is to make breastfeeding support more accessible. “Our bodies make food for babies, and anybody who wants to breast- or chest-feed should be able to access help,” she said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that infants be breastfed for two years instead of just 12 months.
In health care, Bolton and Ogden said, patients are more likely to have positive behavior change when their provider looks like them and can understand what they’re going through. “So it became really important to us not only to replace those who are retiring after doing such a great job but also to increase the diversity in the field,” Bolton said.
“We really want to address some of the health disparities that we see in some of our BIPOC communities related to nutrition and health care,” added Rachel Sinley, chair of Nutrition and an associate professor at MSU Denver. “But we know that chances of initiating and sustaining breastfeeding are going to be enhanced if we have (lactation consultants) who are reflecting the communities that they’re serving.”
Over the past several years, Bolton, Ogden and Sinley have been investigating the accreditation and staffing needs of what a program like this would look like. “We realized we had the capacity to do it within the Department of Nutrition here at MSU Denver,” Sinley said.
This past year, MSU Denver launched the coursework at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In addition, students are required to complete 500 hours of a clinical lactation internship to qualify for the licensing exam. Students, through the course of their studies, go to hospitals; women, infant and children offices; and private practices with certified lactation consultants serving as their instructors. Participating health care facilities include Lutheran Medical Center, St. Joseph Hospital and Boulder Community Health.
Jennifer Knotwell is an intern working with Ogden at the Mama’Hood. “I’m so incredibly thankful for this program,” she said, adding that the training is difficult to find.
“There are so many ways for us to gather the hours that we need,” said Knotwell. “A lot of different types of learning take place, and that’s one of the ways that (the program) keeps things fun and interesting and keeps us wanting to come back for more.”
Bolton added that a career as a certified lactation consultant can be lucrative, with an average salary between $60,000 and $85,000 without requiring a graduate degree. “This is a profession that not only is really exciting and engaging but allows (certified individuals) to work in health care, either in the community setting or in the clinical setting or a variety of other settings, such as private practice,” she said.
Since piloting the first courses last year, the program has received interest from people with all types of personal and educational backgrounds.
“People have personal experiences that make them want to pursue this work,” Sinley said, “whether it’s moms who really struggled to breastfeed and didn’t have that support or who were incredibly successful and want to help someone else be successful. But they don’t necessarily have a background in nutrition or nursing. So we’re seeing a lot of excitement in this area from people who want to make a contribution.”