Lactation Management Training: From Novice to Expert

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Lean In

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I have been alternatively aggravated, inspired, confused and exasperated since listening to the TED talk by Sheryl Sandberg, “Lean In”.  I bought her book to understand better her concepts for women in leadership careers.

“Lean in”.  As lactation consultants it seems we do this daily.  We “Lean In” with our clients.  We give attention and we show interest.  We help problem solve and create strategies.  That seems natural.

I think most of us went into lactation consulting thinking that our role would be to help new mothers be successful with breastfeeding.  Our main challenges would be difficult latch-on, flat nipples or helping moms with engorgement or previous breast surgery.

But once we get into our work, we learn that those clinical challenges are what we prepared for in our lactation consultant training.  They are no less difficult for the mother and no less of a challenge for us, but they are usually solvable.

The bigger challenge is managing a career with all of the other responsibilities that working women generally have, juggling children, work hours, partner’s needs and social obligations.  And we all need a little fun and relaxation from time to time.

But the biggest challenge we encounter is influencing change among co-workers in our hospitals, agencies or communities.  No matter where we work, we likely don’t experience optimal support for our skills and expertise.  We may even experience disparaging comments, unrealistic workloads, or out-right resistance.

Let’s “Lean In” to our careers.  What does that mean?   

  • Make suggestions for change
  • Do library research to share with others
  • Speak up even when not asked ;-)
  • Quote reliable authorities, (The Surgeon General, The Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Joint Commission and others)
  • Volunteer for committees
  • Learn something new, teach something new
  • Do a quality assurance project, survey or a research project
  • Sit at the table and actively engage (as Sheryl would say)
  • Pick an informal mentor for yourself
  • Accept leadership positions in lactation related organizations
  • Mentor (formally or informally) aspiring lactation consultants
  • Grow in your abilities to influence others

I have known many lactation consultants over the years, working in many different settings.  Most did their jobs and went home.  They were good at assisting breastfeeding moms and passionate about the importance of breastfeeding.  They weren’t engaged in moving the breastfeeding agenda forward – whatever that may mean for the setting.  They had a lactation job, but the primary focus was their children and family, not career.  

Lactation Consultants CAN balance their family goals and needs with a career where they “Lean In”, whether working full time or part time.  And the future of breastfeeding support in our country needs these kinds of lactation consultants!

Watch Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk http://www.ted.com/talks/sheryl_sandberg_why_we_have_too_few_women_leaders to get inspired about how you can “Lean In” to your career.

Vergie Hughes has a long history of experience in Maternal Child Health including labor and delivery, post-partum and pediatrics, and for the past 25 years she has been involved in lactation management. Ms. Hughes has a BSN from Pacific Lutheran University and a MS from Georgetown University. She has been a board certified lactation consultant since 1985. At Georgetown University Hospital, she was the director of the Human Milk Bank. She created and developed the National Capitol Lactation Center and the one week Lactation Consultant Training Program. This course has trained more than 4,000 Lactation Consultants since its inception in 1990.


She has been a private practice lactation consultant and business owner, and operated her own lactation center, Washington’s Families First. Lactation Education Resources On-Line is her website, offering training to professionals and information to parents as well. Ms. Hughes has served on the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and has served on the IBLCE exam writing committee. Her first love is teaching and that is exemplified by the creativity of the courses she has developed. A series of courses “The In-patient Breastfeeding Specialist,” "The Out-patient Breastfeeding Specialist” and “The NICU Breastfeeding Specialist” are all designed to advance the lactation management skills of nurses at the bedside. She regularly teaches skills to labor and delivery nurses and just recently developed the course “Towards Exclusive Breastfeeding.”


Ms. Hughes is the program director and content manager for all of the on-line Lactation Education Resources courses. Ms. Hughes was recently honored with a “lifetime achievement award” as Fellow of the International Lactation Consultant Association (FILCA).

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Guest Monday, 20 November 2017