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Episode 12 - Mentoring Made Simple

Hi and welcome to the Lactation Training Lab Podcast. I'm Christine, an IBCLC and trained childbirth educator based in the US. I help lactation care providers optimize their lactation practice and career through resources, information and mindset shifts to help them to clarify and reclaim their purpose and mission. in life I've been in morte she feels for 20 years now and this podcast is my way of sharing with you but I've learned and what the future holds for those of us supporting families and babies where they were seasoned or studying.

Hi and welcome! Thank you for being here. I appreciate that you are listening to the Lactation Training Lab Podcast. I'm Christine, and it’s March, so we are celebrating the IBCLC! One of the things that I always think about in March - when we're thinking about the profession, bringing people into it, being excited about what it is that we do - one of the things I really think about a lot is mentoring.

I know some people probably want to turn this off when I say the word mentoring. Some of you are going to be cringing when I say what I say. Some of you might not listen to this podcast anymore, but here's where we are: mentoring is an absolutely essential part of what we do. If you're not mentoring new IBCLCs, why do you do this work? Who do you think is going to do it when you are no longer able to? How do you imagine families are going to get amazing help with lactation later on?

Do you ever think to yourself “where are these new IBCLCs getting these ideas” or “Wow, I'm really not sure, you know, how the trainings are because it's been a long time since I've been in training.” Well, one way to find out is to start mentoring because when you mentor you become really familiar with how people are being trained today. If you, like me, started your training 20 years ago you're probably kind of out of touch with some of the courses that are out there, and that's not a good thing. You really want to be familiar with the information that's out there, with the training that people are getting and with why they're bringing new ideas into your world. Why are people talking about things in new ways? What do families really need? If you've been saying the same things for 20 years, maybe it's time for something to change.

One of the best ways to make sure that we are mentoring the future is to actually be mentoring - to have a physical, literal program built into what you do. If you're starting out in this practice, if you're starting out in lactation, build it into your practice. Make it something you're doing all the time right from the start. If you're not new, if you've been doing this for a while but you have never mentored, start tomorrow because it's really important. We don't really have any more time to waste on this. You would be surprised if you knew how many people are out there really committed and dedicated to wanting to enter this profession who are hitting closed door after closed door when they seek mentors.

It's really critical that we change this soon. This needs to be changed right away. The virtual lactation support role that we are currently still in due to the pandemic doesn't make it harder - in some ways it might actually make it easier. I know that students and aspiring IBCLCs are telling us that it makes it easier because if IBCLCs are seeing clients virtually, you just add one more person into that virtual consult. It's really not that much more complicated than that.

Today we'll talk about some of the logistics of it, and I hope to inspire you so that you can also join the world of mentoring. It's been one of the most important things that I've ever done, and I know that for me one of the fortunate things, one of the privileges that I had working in a hospital environment in the beginning of my career, was really that precepting people and orienting new people in a hospital environment is built-in. It's something that is always there - you're expected to do it, you don't have a choice, but you also don't have to sign up for it. It just happens - new postpartum nurses show up on the floor and they’re assigned to follow you around for six hours on a day on your lactation shift, and before you know it you're a mentor.

It's a lot of fun and it can be really rewarding for you: you're getting to know new people, you're getting to share what you know, but you're also getting back from them. I really, truly believe that every aspiring IBCLC deserves a really robust mentoring experience that actually prepares them for this work.

What does that mean - what is a robust mentoring experience? To me, that means that the intern or student - we will refer to them as students for the purposes of this podcast - to me the student is going to have a depth of experiences, meaning throughout the spectrum of lactation, throughout many of the issues and topics that come up for people. They're going to have depth of conversations, not only with clients but also with you and with other lactation care providers and other healthcare providers. They're going to have opportunities to demonstrate skills and techniques that they've learned and to practice new ones that maybe you've taught them. You're going to have had the opportunity to have careful observation of their counseling abilities. Nobody wants to get into this profession and be a poor counselor or a scared counselor or counselor who's accidentally not doing a good job. Everybody deserves the opportunity to have their counseling abilities gently critiqued and improved. Students should have opportunities to educate groups under your observation, to research information about topics they haven't heard of or topics that you need more information on so that you can help them develop their research and information skills and their critical thinking, and to develop new ideas or projects with your guidance. They're going to definitely have new ideas as they're working with clients and talking with you. They're going to be bringing you ideas, and they should have opportunities to start to develop and maybe even implement those.

They should have the opportunity to have their educational portfolio reviewed: so you're going through with them what they have already studied, what courses they've taken, what might be missing from that portfolio, and they’re going to get your suggestions and recommendations on that. Most of all, students deserve your time. They deserve to be able to spend time with you, talking with you, talking through cases, talking through the what ifs, and really getting to know what the flow and the rhythm of lactation work is like. Many people expect that when they get into the lactation field that a lot of things about it are going to be very cut-and-dry: a consultation takes this long, at the end we have a plan and a resolution, and it's all tied up in a nice neat bow. But that's not the reality of the work that we do, and people who are entering this field deserve to know that.

As we look at opportunities for you to be mentoring, we want to think about the ways that candidates are coming to us - what types of pathways they’re using. When I say pathways, I mean the actual Pathways set forth by IBLCE. For folks who are in the Pathway 1 support group environments, where they're going through a recognized counselor organization, this is an approved Pathway 1 time frame where they know how many hours they have to do and they have to do it through a certain approved group, mentoring is built into those experiences because those groups are already being led by someone who has more experience and who has been involved. The mentoring part is often built. In a support group itself, as well, it gives more time. It is just the nature of what that is. There's more time to discuss cases, more time to sit with clients, and to see them on a continual basis than when all of the experiences are really just one time or two times, consult-based experiences.

Support group environments for Pathway 1 are sort of an ideal way for people to get mentoring, and if you're a person who leads one of those groups, that is really just the easiest place in the world to be mentoring people. And it can start really easily - it can even start before they've taken any formalized training, but once they do and they've declared they’re Pathway 1, then then things really start to roll for them.

For Pathway 1 candidates who are health professionals, who do not need anyone to sign off necessarily on their experience when they're applying for the IBCLC exam, the thing is - these folks still need mentors. These candidates actually still need people to bounce off ideas, to talk through cases, to discuss best practices. That's another Educational Service that you can provide - and charge for - that’s something that you can offer to people who are going through that pathway in that particular way. Those candidates also deserve to have a mentor who is available for them so that they don't feel as if they're practicing by themself because that doesn't really feel like practice. If you're by yourself and nobody is able to - it's almost like practicing baseball without a coach. It’s good to practice by yourself, but you also need feedback and you need insight. That's another opportunity that we have.

Now Pathway 3 is the most common thing that comes to mind when we start to talk about mentoring, and here's where some of you may start to cringe, but here's what I'm going to tell you: if you have a private practice, if you practice on your own or in a very small group, you control the environment in which you work. You control everything about your business - your lactation business - so you can definitely make it possible to have Pathway 3 students. You just have to decide that that's something that you do. I will encourage you to decide that now and to start tomorrow.

When you can control everything about your business and how it runs, you totally have the opportunity to be able to welcome students and interns into your practice. Make that something that you just do: there's no question about it, you always do it. I'm not saying don't set limits - maybe your practice can only manage three students at a time, but by all means you should be welcoming students into your setup.

If you work in a hospital or a clinic as an IBCLC, the setting may be more limited because you don't set the rules, but it's up to you as an IBCLC to start advocating and looking for a way to welcome students in such as talking to the Educational Services Department in your facility about how they train residents, how they train new nurses - what kind of processes do they have for other people who need clinical experience before they're able to practice (because everyone in healthcare does) so there's definitely a way that your hospital or facility allows people in as trainees that are being supervised. They have a pathway for this already. They may not have heard about doing it for an IBCLC candidate, but that's where you step in. That's your role to do that.

That's something that happened in my local community. A few years ago we started to have a a group building up of people who had taken formal lactation training and were ready for their Pathway 3 mentoring experiences, and we worked with our local County hospital and they didn't have an easy way to get those students in to be able to observe with their lactation staff. So they got creative and they went to their volunteer auxiliary staff and they said “What kind of pathway do you have? How do people get in as a registered volunteer to help out in the hospital?” and that ended up being the way. These lactation students went through the volunteer program and became registered volunteers of the hospital. They were simply assigned to the lactation staff and they were able to do completely supervised, one-to-one patient management so they were following lactation consultants around, doing their rounds, they were providing care under supervision and it was a perfect environment for learning and now that pathway is established. The next time somebody goes to them and says “I am looking for a mentor - I need some hospital-based experience,” that pathway is already established. They’re ready to go. It was very successful for them as a hospital because it added to their ability to provide care, and it was very successful for all of the students who went through it who now have all passed the exam and become IBCLCs in our community. It really was a win-win for everyone.

Other health professions expect to be precepting as just part of what they do, so it isn't so much that we should be sitting and thinking while “How can I integrate that [mentoring] into what I'm doing?” but thinking of it as “Oh my goodness, somewhere along the way I forgot to become a mentor!”

Please don't turn the podcast off; I promise we've got more but this is really important - I'm really trying to make a point that this matters a lot and if all you can think to yourself right now is “Well, it's not for me, I just don't know that I could do that, I don't know if I know enough, I don't know if I have the patience, it would take so much time, I'm not sure about how to have the right paperwork for all of this,” don't worry, I've got some practical tips coming here.

I want you to know that working with interns and students really allows you to hear new ideas and get insights from people who maybe are a little bit fresher to the work, maybe are a little bit more enthusiastic or excited because it's new to them. Maybe they've had more recent experience themselves, not just in training, but in personal lactation experiences, and the people that are around them, so they may be bringing you ideas and insights that you didn't have. Increasingly, the people who are going to come to you as students and interns - they're not going to look like you, are not going to have the same background as you, they're not going to have the same experiences as you. As we work to diversify this profession, that's just the natural way it is going to be. You're going to have interns and students who can absolutely bring you new ideas and insights because they didn't have the exact same experience as you already so they're going to bring you things you didn't know. They're going to bring you language and culture things that you weren't aware of. That's a really important part of your own growth. You are definitely going to get better at what you do by being a mentor and having students in your practice.

Students are usually really adept at noticing gaps in your practice as well. They can help out with things in terms of if you want to hold an event or you want to teach some classes, yes, that can be part of what they do with you, but one of the biggest things they do is they come into what you do with fresh eyes and say “How come you don't do this?” or “What if we did this?” They're not coming in to be your assistant - they're coming in to practice the work that we do so that one day, they're going to get their letters after their name, and they're going to get their certificate in the mail, and they're going to do the exact same work as you. That's the idea of them practicing with you there to guide them. They're not there to do your charting or to organize your bookshelf. They are there to actually practice lactation, and that's what makes mentoring such a great experience for everybody all around: that sharing and learning with one another.

You can also earn CERPs as a recertifying IBCLC for being a mentor. There's a very well-established pathway by IBLCE that works and that's something you can look up on the website.They have a really nice explanation of course of how that works and it's really easy to follow.

If one of the things that overwhelms you about the idea of mentoring is knowing that, of course, like everything else, there's going to be paperwork involved, there's going to be money involved, and sometimes as IBCLCs we don't think of ourselves as, you know, great business people or really good at dealing with contracts and paperwork, we hate charging people for things - I want to remind you that as a mentor you will have additional expenses like you're going to need charting software that's going to allow another user to access your charts. You're going to need communication tools with HIPAA compliance that are going to allow you to communicate not only with your clients, but with your students. No matter what the role is or what the relationship is, even if you’ve got a Pathway 1 health professional candidate who really just needs to bounce ideas off, you still are going to need a communication tool that's going to be HIPAA-compliant. Those things are going to cost you a little bit of extra money. This is why I really encourage you to build this in from the beginning. We want to see that we have these tools already in place or that we add them in as we learn what might be missing from the beginning so that we're not tempted to simply text each other about that case that we saw yesterday. We want to make sure we have the right tools to do this job the right way right from the beginning because you are demonstrating that - you are role-modeling that for your student. You don't want to wing it. You want to have those things set up.

But when it comes to the paperwork part, you don't have to write those things yourself because there are templates. Templates make your life easier in most ways. You'll be able to find templates from They provide some templates and there's some other ones available in other places as well - and I'll put some links to things in the show notes - places where you can find templates for your clinical internship paperwork and things that you might need. You'll need some contracts and you'll need to set some boundaries about commitments that your students make to you. That's completely normal - you want to develop a business relationship with your students, with your interns, and you're actually required to do that in some places by law. You want to make sure that you're protected as you're teaching them and as you're taking care of your clients. We want to make sure your professional liability insurance is all up to date, and just formalize that relationship so that if something doesn't work out and for one reason or another you have a student who isn't living up to their commitment, that will be really easy to tell and really easy to back up because you'll have paperwork that says this is what they should have been doing and they didn’t come through that way. It makes all the accountability really work for you and it protects you.

Ways that you can connect with people who need your mentoring services: the biggest thing I always recommend first thing that always pops to mind is you need to be part of your local breastfeeding coalition or task force, your local USLCA chapter. These local community organizations are where you find the people who live in your neighborhood doing your work. If you're not connected with them, you're missing out on all kinds of opportunities, and you're also missing out on anyone who gets in touch with them to say “Hey, I'm looking for a mentor.” You really want to be involved in these things. You really want to be attending events. You want to be contributing and participating with your local organizations to make sure that people will know that you are going to be available when it's time for mentoring. USLCA has a directory and other organizations in other countries may have similar things (I am not sure, I did not look into it) but USLCA has a directory where members of the organization who provide mentoring services can list those services there. People who are looking for a mentor can simply look up the location where they're looking for a mentor and contact those people very easily. Social media is another great place to let people know that you're offering a mentoring service through your practice. Local support groups - your local Baby Café, your La Leche League, your Mom to Mom - all those kinds of groups are going to have people in them who are thinking about doing what you do. Those are good places for you to let the leadership know they're that you're offering mentoring so that they have a viable conversation - when people do come to them and say “Hey, I think I might want to do what you do” if they think to themselves “well, there’s really nobody that offers mentoring around here,” they may not be able to encourage those interested parties as much as they could if they were confident about the mentoring opportunities in your area. Make sure they know that you’re going to be offering this service.

Those are some practical things, logistical things that I really wanted to share with you as part of your inspiration. Then I want to leave you with just a few things - this one's for the students out there! If you're a student, if you're a person who is looking for mentoring, here are ways that you can really set yourself up for success. Demonstrate your commitment to pursuing this path beyond obtaining your training courses. Be connected with those local coalitions and organizations. Be part of them. Participate in them. You don't have to be an IBCLC already to be part of those and to really make an impact and make a difference. Reach out to everyone you can find in your area who is involved in lactation care. Talk to everyone. Attend virtual breastfeeding support groups in your area. Get to know their facilitators. Get to know their style. Get to know who they refer people to - what's their referral network when babies or their parents have other problems? This is another way of getting to find those people who might be able to mentor you. Have patience. Mentorship cannot be rushed. Time is your friend and is going to make you a more confident, capable and trusted IBCLC. It’s so tempting and it feels so important to get this done quickly, but mentorship takes time and if you can spread this out over a period of years rather than months, it's going to make a big difference in your experience level, your confidence level, and your capacity to really take care of families.

And a few words for the mentors: you are making a commitment to help someone get to where you are and there's no substitute for that. If you aren't doing it, who's going to do it? It's so important that you get involved with this. If you're starting out in the lactation field, just start doing it right from the beginning. If you've been practicing lactation for a while and you're not mentoring, start tomorrow. It's really going to make a difference in the future of what we do and all the work that we put in today will be meaningless if we aren't training people who can do this work tomorrow. Mentors: attend trainings and webinars with your students. Learn with them. Learn alongside them. Read with them. Talk to them. Be available to them. This is just a built-in part of what we do, and the more we treat it like that instead of something extra that we're trying to add on to the work of lactation care, then the more it feels like something we can put off until another day. And we really can't put it off until another day anymore. We need to be there today for all the folks who are out there really excited about becoming IBCLCs and finding closed doors when they're looking for mentors.

I hope this conversation was inspiring to you and helped you get some ideas and some thoughts about what you can do and how you can get involved in mentoring. I’d love to hear your feedback and I look forward to seeing you on the next podcast. Thanks for listening - bye for now!


Listen to Episode 12 here!

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