Being a Lactation Counselor: A Dedication to Your Proffesion

Ibu Lilis Ratnasari, a private midwife, received a 40-hour training in lactation counseling through the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF about a year ago. More recently, she shared her experience at the first Jakarta Counselor Forum, which was conducted by Mercy Corps in cooperation with the North Jakarta Government.

Her enthusiastic gestures filled the 14th floor of the North Jakarta Mayor’s office, as she began to tell not only of her achievements but also about her challenges as a Lactation Counselor.

After she trained to be lactation counselor, Ibu Lilis says she never forgets to remind every mother she meets to breastfeed. Not only that, she has made time to give counseling to each of them, in order to make the mothers around her confident in breastfeeding.

“I realize my neighborhood has not given full support to breastfeeding practices yet, but at least I am doing my part as counselor, which is to give counseling one by one to every mother that comes to my clinic,” she said.
Ibu Lilis (with microphone), a Mercy Corps-supported midwife and lactation counselor, talks about the challenges of her job at a recent forum. Photo: Farahdiba Tenrilemba Jafar/Mercy Corps

So naturally Ibu Lilis, 33, who opened a clinic called “Sunter Jaya Baru” in Jakarta’s Tanjung Periok neighborhood a month ago, was sad to see one of her patients drowned in a lack of confidence in breastfeeding.

“I told her everything about early initiation (for breastfeeding) while she still pregnant. She‘s the smartest patient I’ve ever met. She was so confident to give her child breastmilk and willing to do the six months’ exclusive breastfeeding once she delivered. I never thought she would give up just like that,” Ibu Lilis explained.

But more challenges were presented with the 25th patient that came to her clinic. This patient’s baby’s body temperature got higher on his second day of life.

“I convinced the mother to keep breastfeeding, that would make the temperature go down. But the grandmother was worried, then pushed me to give formula instead,” Ibu Lilis said.

After the mother’s family pushed to switch the newborn baby to formula, Ibu Lilis suggested that the mother go to a pediatrician at the nearest hospital to check on the baby and give another opinion. As a lactation counselor, she never wants to give formula, ever. The clinic where she works does not even have any correlation with a formula company, as she learned from her last experience working at Maternity Hospital, which had a contract with a big formula company.

“I learned from the training that we can not have any collaboration with formula company. It’s against the code that I’ve now taken,” Ibu Lilis explained.

Through committed women like Ibu Lilis, Mercy Corps’ Healthy Start Program is trying to touch mothers willing to change the behavior and commit to a healthier beginning for their infants. Together with the Midwives Association and North Jakarta District Health Office, Healthy Start is not only conducting training for health providers and government staff, but also training for community volunteers to become Lactation Motivators and run Mother Support Groups in some of Jakarta’s poorest neighborhoods. Last but not least, the program also fights for policy changes to create a more supportive environment for breastfeeding.

“I feel so blessed for being able to join the training,” Ibu Lilis said. “I got the networking that I’ve been waiting for, including connections with pediatricians. It makes my work easier. It was also easier for me to get the legal authorization to open myprivate midwife practice. I will pass this breastfeeding knowledge to everyone I know for the rest of my life.”

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