Advice from One MD to Another on Supporting Breastfeeding

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Advice from One MD to Another on Supporting Breastfeeding

Todd Wolynn
By Todd Wolynn, MD, IBCLC, MMM

By 1971, only one in five moms in the US even attempted to breastfeed. Formula had become the “norm” for infant feeding, and, in the process, we’d lost three generations of breastfeeders. The loss of this experience, from grandmother to mother to daughter, left a huge void in the natural teaching of the art. And the cruel irony of it all is that, in many instances, our healthcare system worked hand-in-hand with formula companies to create this loss.

I’m often asked how I, a man, got involved in breastfeeding medicine. The truth is: I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And that experience made me the right person.

During my pediatric residency, one of my physician-mentors chose a project to train pediatric residents in breastfeeding medicine. It even sponsored participants to sit for the IBLCE exam. So, in 1995, I was proud to add IBCLC to the MD after my name.

I received what would be considered extensive breastfeeding support training during my residency, but I still remember how uncomfortable I was when I did my first ‘solo’ lactation consultation. I remember being apologetic to the breastfeeding mom, and letting her know that this was in fact my first independent lactation consultation. She said she was just thankful for any support.

I believe I did provide some help and support for that mom and her baby. And I know I was a lot more helpful after I worked with my 100th breastfeeding mom. After I’d working with my 1,000th breastfeeding mom, I was pretty solid. This doesn’t mean I got every breastfeeding mom and baby to breastfeed successfully. But it does mean I was more experienced, more confident, and more resourceful in the care I provided.

When I talk to new and established physicians about supporting breastfeeding, I ask them to think back to what drove almost all of us into medicine—a love of science. Some of us were chemistry buffs or physics freaks (or, like me, biology nerds). Whatever science we love, at almost every doctor’s core is a desire to figure out how things evolved, what makes them work, and why they succeed. So I tell physicians point blank: somewhere between high school science class and residency, a lactating breast somehow transformed into a form of kryptonite for most OB-GYN.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And, more importantly: it shouldn’t be that way.

The good news is med schools and residency programs are—slowly, surely, but finally—starting to include lactation and breastfeeding in meaningful ways in their curricula. Still, most physicians ready to promote and support breastfeeding will likely not have the good fortune of all the training I received. But that’s okay. We all have to start somewhere. And we’re all the right people. We just have to put ourselves in the right place at the right time.

Here, just to get you started, are five simple things to do once you get there:

Be Encouraging. Hope is precious; never squander it.

Be a Good Listener. Doing that really will get you most of the way.

Be Authentic. Be honest and real, and the trust will follow. Both ways.

Be Respectful. Inform, and then support a mom as she wants.

Be Compassionate. This is the how it should start. And how it should always remain.

Todd Wolynn MD, IBCLC, MMM is a board-certified pediatrician and an International Board-Certified lactation consultant for more than 20 years, and he currently serves as the CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics, the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh and the National Breastfeeding Center.