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Episode 4 - What It Takes to Become A Better Lactation Provider

[INTRO]H​ i there, and welcome to The Lactation Training Lab Podcast, a show created to inspire, inform, and engage current and aspiring lactation care providers. So glad you’re here! I’m Christine, an IBCLC and trained childbirth educator based in the United States. I created the Lactation Training Lab after years of practicing clinical lactation care and providing professional lactation training to other health care providers to serve as a resource for learning and connecting over all things lactation-related. Whether you’re seasoned or studying, I hope this show will make you think and inspire you to act. Here we go!

Welcome! We’re here today to talk about what it takes for us to collectively become better at what we do: what it takes to become better lactation care providers. First we’ll think about what it used to look like.

When this entire field began, there was a pretty distinct process that people went through in order to get trained and certified and start doing this work. There was some initial training to do - courses, reading textbooks, and there was clinical mentorship and supervised clinical hours and ways to get that experience that people needed in order to be eligible to sit for the IBCLC exam. Then, after certification, there was continuing education that was required to keep up your credential. There were new books to read, there were new things to learn, and now, just like way back then, when everything started out in 1985, things are changing.

Things are different now. What we see now is that there’s so much more!​ There are more different types of certifications or training courses that are available. There are new ways of getting those supervised clinical mentoring hours, and that part has become even more challenging for some. It’s become even more important for many.

There are also a lot of people who are pursuing education in lactation because, while it’s not the primary thing they do in their work or the primary type of care they offer, it’s something that’s important to the clients they serve. They need additional training and information in order to be a great resource for the people that they’re trying to serve.

One of the things that I’ve really been pondering and considering over the past year is that the ways that we get better at what we do go far beyond what we can find in a classroom or a training or a course. Those things are always going to be important and they’re always going to be necessary and foundational to learning new skills, learning new information, becoming certified, and doing a really good job.

But what we also see is that, especially with social media as a way for us to communicate with one another, in between those big conferences and get-togethers and times where we all come together to learn in one place, we really need ​new ways to engage and socialize with one another and to be able to share information and to share context for information.

What I see is that the real way that we get better - what it really takes - is ​to be intentionally engaged with those who do this work.​ We really need a strategy and a program to make sure that we’re studying all of the things that go alongside those training courses.

If we think about it, taking more classes, whether you’re certified already, whether you are in the process of studying and preparing, whether you’ve been certified for a very long time and feel experienced and seasoned in what you do, ​everybody needs connection.​ Everybody needs that feedback from other people. What we have today and especially this year are so many virtual training opportunities, and those things are amazing! They’re a really great way to get information that’s very current in a way that’s actually a lot more affordable than the ways we’ve had to do it before.

A lot of people are tempted to keep on signing up for more and more classes, and I am definitely guilty of this! I have signed up for more classes this year than I could possibly finish or possibly retain information from. I really started thinking about that about a month or two ago and considering what it would take for me to have a better experience doing that - ​so on the last podcast,​ we really looked at some actual strategies and tips to get more out of those virtual trainings.

When we think about it beyond those tips and strategies for when we’re actually in and engaged in those courses and classes, let’s think about this for a second: those courses and trainings - they provide us information. They give us facts, they give us case studies, and they give us a very brief window into what we might need to know about a concept or a topic or a strategy or a technique. But the thing is, once that’s over, then what do you do with that information? How are you going to incorporate that into what you already know? How and when are you going to use that information in the work that you do, especially if you work in multiple different ways - if you work in more than one setting, if you work with different client populations? If you have a role that requires you to train other people, how will you incorporate that into your curriculum? How does that information that you just learned actually fit with what you already knew, what you thought, or what your concept of lactation really means? Can you figure those things out on your own or do you need some connection and engagement with other people in order to process those types of questions?

Finally, and to me actually most importantly, what is the context of the information that the speaker did not have time to cover? As a speaker, I know that when I put together a presentation, I am limited by the amount of time this presentation can take. That means that I have to make some serious choices when I think about my topic and when I start to put my outline together. I have to decide what I have time to share and what is most relevant, and then I have to cut other things outl. Sometimes those other things might be the things that you, if you were listening to my presentation, might be most interested in. It could be the historical nature of what we’re talking about, it could be the economic ramifications of the topic, it could be the ethical viewpoint on the topic, it could be the topic through a health equity lens, it could be thinking about the trauma-informed care applications of these concepts or skills or techniques, it could be a multidisciplinary look at the concept or skill or technique. There’s so many ways that we could choose as speakers to present this information, but we’re always limited by the time, by the scope of what we’ve been asked to do, and so we have to make those choices and we leave those things out. As a participant in a course or a training, often those are the things that pop up for us - those are those individual priorities and individual perspectives that sometimes we want the most.

We know that the information we’re using today in our practice of lactation care, regardless of where you practice - if you are a peer supporter, if you are a doula, if you are practicing inpatient in a hospital or community-based in a clinic - the information that we use and the way that we care for people today - we’re not just using static information, like “these are the hormones of lactation.” We are using professional development skills and tools​.

We are using much more perspective to be able to provide excellent care for people. The information that we’re using and the way that we present it has evolved as we have evolved as a profession and as we each individually evolve. ​We each are evolving over our career based on the experiences that we have working with clients, the information we learn along the way, and how we learn to apply that through our engagement with other people who do our work, other people who do our work in different settings​ -do you see where I’m going with this?

This is really about connection and engagement. There’s just so many more perspectives and contexts to consider these days when we’re talking about lactation “training.” Continuing education through courses and classes is amazing and necessary. It’s always going to be the foundation of what we do and how we learn. But it’s definitely not the whole story.

Another example of how we are taking in information these days is the random nature of learning from social media. Many of us have a practice of using social media sometimes from a personal level and others times with a more professional bent to it. Sometimes we’re going on there specifically to check for breastfeeding information or lactation news, or we’re checking on our lactation business page, while other times we really are going on there just to see if our nieces and nephews have some new pictures posted in their Halloween costumes. We really have this random way of approaching social media that leads to a very random application of information. Sometimes we’re going on there and we’re finding this great discussion in a group that we’re in and we learn some things and then we move on, and we don’t have a way to continue that. Or we don’t remember if we’ve done that on Tuesday, on Saturday we don’t think about the fact that we could go back into that group and find some new information and do some learning because we don’t think of that as a formal learning process. We have these informal channels of learning that are happening.

Another example: for me, I have, for some reason, it just hit me like this, that when I signed up for Twitter, which was actually many years ago, (not that long after they invented Twitter, I signed up for an account!) and I very quickly learned that many researchers and scientists were posting papers there and many people had a lot of great resources to share on Twitter. It was a very easy way for me to approach that information from a learning perspective, knowing that I was going to find new research, new perspectives, information directly from the people who were doing the work, and I wasn’t going to be distracted by cute pictures of my nieces and nephews like I am on Facebook.​ I wanted to always keep that as a channel that I use pretty much for only professional and education purposes. I’ve been to many conferences where I followed the hashtag for the conference, and sometimes I’ve participated in tweeting on that hashtag so that other people could partake of that information even if they weren’t there. That really became for me something that I very intentionally did. But other than that, social media is kind of a hit or miss: sometimes I’m going to learn something and sometimes I’m not.

I feel like there’s a real need for people to have these intentional ways to approach and find information. People really need practical and tested solutions from other people who have already invented the wheel. That’s what you tend to find in a lot of these groups. Someone will ask a question like “do you use a log to hand out to your patients to keep track of their pumping?” Then 5 people will chime in and say “here’s the one we use” or “we use the one from there” or “can you email me this attachment?” It’s a great way of getting information from people. Nobody should be inventing things that have already been invented. The stories of “how we did it” like somebody might ask a question like “how did you finally get your hospital to have pasteurized donor human milk available?” and then, again, 7 people will chime in and say “it took us this long!” Someone else will say “it took us that long!” and they’ll say “here’s what we did” and “we’re still working on it.” Those things are so important, they’re so practical and logistical for the work that we do, so a person who wants to get a pasteurized donor human milk program in their hospital doesn’t necessarily need a training or a course - they need connection and engagement with other people who have done this work. In trying to formulate these really strategic ways - these really deliberate and intentional ways - it’s really made me think that practicing lactation by yourself and without that connection and engagement, taking courses from the comfort of your home or the safety of your office, reading books on your own and not having anyone to talk about it with - it really is like reading a book by yourself vs being in a book club. Being in a book club, you’re talking to other people who read it, you’re asking questions, you’re sharing your insights, you’re getting feedback from other people - because the thing is, we’re human, and what other people think about the work that we do or how we do that work - it really does matter to us and it makes a difference in how we understand concepts and are able to apply information.

Here are some things that I believe are true about lactation training:

  • It happens both ​inside and outside of the classroom,​ and by classroom I mean actual classroom, physical classroom with chairs and desks as well as virtual classroom

  • Lactation training is as much about learning ​how to apply new information​ as it is learning the facts, learning that new information.

  • It’s a ​career-long habit​. It isn’t something that’s over when the training courses are done and the test is passed, or it’s not done when you re-certify every 5 years as an IBCLC. It’s something that we do our whole careers as we evolve.

  • It includes ​communication and debriefing with your colleagues, really going back through the things that you’ve learned, the things that you’ve done, the ways that you’ve helped people, the ways that maybe you’ve made mistakes. Being able to debrief with colleagues is such a great learning process - it’s so important to what we do and it helps put everything that we do in perspective, especially when we’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated about something

  • Lactation training ​elevates your practice to serve your clients better. It gives you more information, perspective, techniques to communicate, all those sorts of things.

  • I also believe that in lactation training, ​journaling about the evolution of your practice adds another dimension. It builds your own personal learning story so that you can share it with other people. I have always loved to hear people’s story of why they entered the profession of lactation care. It’s fascinating to me; I love hearing about what pushed people and then how they proceeded through that process - how did it happen . Sometimes when you ask someone, you’re completely surprised by the way that they describe their trajectory because it happened much faster than what you expected or it took a really long time to evolve. But that learning story matters and it inspires other people to know that they, too, can do it, no matter where they’re coming from or what their background. All of those things really speak to how lactation training has changed from the way we previously thought of it as something that was more event-based in terms of trainings and courses and conferences into something that is really human, touchy-feely type of process that never ends. It’s always happening. We can streamline that process and we can simplify it, we can strategically and intentionally put together a program of how we are going to approach it so that the randomness is minimized and the intention of it becomes what we are really focused on.

There’s a process so that when we’re feeling overwhelmed or disorganized, feeling uncertain about when your next learning opportunity is coming, feeling frustrated or isolated in the work that you do and like there’s no one else who really understands you - getting to a place that you feel confident that you really do have the information that you need to help people, that you can be patient and have the understanding that some of the ways that we make change take a really long time. Knowing that other people have been there before, feeling organized and like you always know where to look things up or who to go to when you need something, feeling connected to people and feeling supported by other people who do the work that we do - those are the ways that we can more strategically change how we approach the lactation training that is not happening inside a classroom.

Whether you are in the process of studying and preparing, and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed because you’re taking a lot of training courses and you’re learning a ton of new information or you’re gaining this new timeline and understanding of how lactation proceeds, but you’re really not sure how you’re going to apply that information, you’re not sure how you’re going to communicate that information or what is the context of the work that we do in the different settings and how we are perceived by other care providers.

Maybe you’re a novice and you’re recently certified in some way, so you’re feeling like you have good training, you feel solid with that part, but you’re still a little bit unsure about some of your counseling because you have a limited amount of experience with that. Maybe you’re not sure what your role truly is and how you fit in in the setting where you’ve been hired or where you are volunteering. Maybe you’re even feeling a little isolated because everyone that you know in the field is still studying and preparing or they’ve already been in the field for a while, so you really just aren’t sure where your place is.

Or maybe you’re a seasoned lactation care provider who is simply feeling a little burned out and frustrated about all of those processes and things that take a really long time to evolve and change. Maybe you’re feeling isolated because it seems like there’s no one else around you who has as much experience as you do. Maybe you even feel that you are operating and thinking at a higher vibration because you truly have a lot more experience most of your colleagues and so you feel like it’s always your responsibility to be teaching others - where are you going to get your learning if it feels like everyone around you is always seeking knowledge from you and you just aren’t feeling like your own cup is being filled.

This program is really about using these other learning categories. With lactation training and courses, we tend to be getting information. We get research, we get case studies - so we do get a great deal of what we need, a great deal of knowledge and something to move forward with. But again, we need some of that perspective and context in order to be able to use the information. We need to fill in the blanks of the things that the speaker was not able to include in their limited time presentation. We need to be able to build around that foundation of knowledge and re-insert all those things about the history, the economic outlook, the ethical ramifications, the health equity lens - all of those things that I mentioned before. We need to rebuild that back into the information so that we really know what we’re talking about.

Some of the things that help us rebuild that we need to think about when we’re building up that foundation around the knowledge are:

  • Counseling​ skills

  • Connection ​with other people

  • Teamwork and where our place is - how we sit in the role of lactation care provider and how we sit within the framework of other healthcare providers

  • We need to have a strong Advocacy​ understanding or background

  • We need to consider what other ​Reading or Studying goes along with what we’ve learned

  • We need to consider how ​Systems Change in general is going to be involved in what we’re discussing - what are we working toward. A good example of that is when we’re discussing anything having to do with oral restrictions, tongue ties, lip ties, and that particular topic, there’s often questions at the end which have to do with Systems Change like how do I get more providers in my area to understand this and to be able to work with me

  • Global Context of what we do and how we see what we are doing and how it fits into the larger picture and how lactation as a global practice and behavior is compared to what we do where we are and how that might make our work easier or how it might inform how we communicate

  • Mindset and Organization - things that need to be overcome or strategized or just better organized

  • We need to think about how we will ​Educate Others about the information we’ve learned

  • We need to consider ​Staffing and Roles of the lactation care provide and how this information impacts that

  • We need to take that ​Ethics lens and put whatever we’ve learned right through it

  • We need to have great communication skills and how we will best communicate the new information we’ve received in our training

There are so many ways that all of these categories can be applied, discussed, and used to put all of our information and knowledge through this lens so that we come out of that with a much better experience.

In order to do that, we really need a program that allows us to have this intentional strategy - this intentional focus on being able to put all of those skills that are not just about the knowledge, but all the rest of those skills to the test. That’s what really helps us evolve, the information that we’re getting, the knowledge that we’re getting, and be able to apply it and use it in context.

What we’re working on here and what I offer is called ​The Lactation Training Lab Membership​. What that membership does is to take all of those categories of additional learning and offers the opportunity to explore each one in depth through a process of using a curated collection of content and resources that I have created around each one.

For instance, this month we are taking a very deep dive into counseling and we’re looking at many different areas of lactation care and thinking about what kinds of counseling skills are needed, what counseling skills are needed on paper vs what’s happening in reality, how best do we prepare the newcomer - the novice or the studying person - for what they actually might encounter in the real world. We’re taking that deep dive this month.

Here’s where we start: the bulk of what you learn and how you evolve as a lactation care provider happens outside of the classroom and after you have read the books. In the ​Lactation Training Lab Membership​, you can use this process to feel more organized, to feel more engaged in the information and knowledge and the global group of people who are doing this work, and that can lead to a feeling of better fulfillment, less burnout, and just feeling like you’re doing a better job and you are a better lactation care provider.

You have access to an ​exclusive collection of content that I’ve both collected from external sources and created with the background that I have and the information that I am, myself, studying. Putting together all of these things that will help us together, as a group, discuss and engage and come up with ways that we can move the knowledge forward and move our own process forward.

It’s easy to ​track how you’re accomplishing this work because you’re able to track the content that is contained in the module and make sure that you’re engaging as much as you want to. There’s an exclusive Facebook group that you have access to that makes it easy for you to engage and have conversations that are ongoing about these very specific topics that you know about in advance. Nothing is going to surprise you - you’re going to know that all month, you’re accessing a group where we’re talking about counseling skills, and when the next month starts, you’re going to know that all month in this group, this is how we’re looking at the next topic.

If you think about this membership as like any other subscription membership service - my dogs get toys and treats in a box every month, it’s a subscription service that I subscribe to because if I don’t, my big dog will eat through everything in my house, so he needs toys, so once a month they send us some really awesome super chewer toys, and I pay a monthly subscription fee for that. There’s lots of other subscription models that are going on - there’s food service ones where you can get meals that are prepared or meals that you prepare yourself - there’s lots of ways that we use subscription membership services these days. This is just another one.

I think that it will serve you really well. This membership subscription service costs you just $21/month. ​We’re looking for people who are really invested and really committed to becoming a better lactation care provider. ​What you can offer the group matters a lot, and your background, your perspective, your unique voice, what you’ve done before you worked in lactation, where you grew up, how your culture influences and impacts the work that you do - all of those things matter.

If you think that you have nothing to offer because you’re newer to the field, that is definitely not the way that I look at that. I want this group to really reflect the studying and the novice and the seasoned.

I would really like it to be a group where everyone can learn from other people - ​we all have something to learn, regardless of our experience level, especially when we really start to open our eyes to the fact that people who grew up in different places than us have something to teach us, people who grew up in different cultures have something to teach us. There’s no end to the learning that we can do together.

If you’d like more information about that specifically, please go to and you’ll find some more details and descriptions and go through it again.

I hope that you are enjoying this podcast - I am really enjoying the opportunity to share these things with you! If there’s a topic that you’d like me to discuss, something that you’re interested in hearing me talk about, I would love to hear from you. If you really like the podcast, one of the cool things that you can do is go to Apple Podcasts and leave a review. Then more people will see it!

Most of all, I hope you’ll share this podcast with other people because that’s the way that we really share this information and we really share this perspective. I hope that what I have said here tonight really inspired you to think about how you, yourself, are evolving in your lactation care career, and I look forward to hearing from you about what you thought about what I presented tonight in terms of the things that I believe about what lactation training is and what it can be. I really would love to hear from you about that. Please share the podcast and please let me know what you think about it. I very much look forward to the next time together here on The Lactation Training Lab Podcast! Thanks.


Listen to Episode 4 here!

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