“How you were fed in the first two years of your life will affect your health for the rest of your life,” says Gini Baker, who coordinates and teaches the Lactation Specialist, Lactation Educator (CLEC), and LEEARC approved Lactation Consultant program.
There are several different paths for those interested in the field of lactation and Baker recommends that anyone considering a career in this area take the five day lactation educator course, which will help students decide how to best channel their passion for infant-mother care. For example she says, “If you are young, I’m going to channel you towards a program like nursing because it’s going to open more doors for you.” Or, if you’re someone who’s already had children, she suggests using your experience in a position such as a lactation consultant.
Even before teaching at UC San Diego, Baker was passing on her knowledge of breastfeeding and childbirth in many ways. She worked at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women as a lactation consultant, owned a maternity clothing store and DME business, and then started the Childbirth education program at UC San Diego.
Baker has been teaching the art of lactation for over 25 years, however, when she began her career as a nurse she “wanted to be a registered dietician, who worked in The Betty Crocker test kitchens. I was the first in my family to go to college. I got full ride scholarship to community college, where I was accepted into the two year nursing program,” she says. “At that time, it only lasted two years. Today, you have to do two years of pre-req nursing and then, the two year RN [registered nurse] program.”
This is why Baker recommends that anyone interested in lactation get their bachelor’s degree first. “If you are going to do four years of college, you will get further if you get your bachelor’s degree,” she says.
But, you do not have to be a nurse to be a board certified lactation consultant. However, you are required to have extensive knowledge and experience assisting mothers with breastfeeding in order to earn your certification from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. That’s where Baker’s classes come in.
“We start with learning risks of not breast feeding,” says Baker. “We don’t tell everyone that they have to breast feed. We want them to make an informed choice whether to breast feed or not, as there are risks of not breastfeeding.”
By the time she had her first child, Baker had been a critical care nurse and graduated Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor’s in health education from University of Maine. “Then, only poor people breast fed and I was no longer poor. I wasn’t going to do anything that made me look poor,” she says. “Fortunately, I was surrounded by wise women with college degrees from Harvard and they said ‘real women breast feed’ and this helped convince me to breast feed my baby.”
Baker says that the reason there is a need for lactation professionals is because “women have lost the wisdom and art of breast feeding. Our society has done a good job of convincing us that artificial is better than real and slowly our culture, with recent green and organic movements, has been realizing that’s not true.”
Baker makes the analogy that we could live off of syrup, but that we won’t be at our optimal health. “Formula is called formula for a reason, making people think it is special and formulated,” she says. “We use the term ‘artificial baby milk’ because that’s what it is: artificial. Human milk is the ideal food source for humans. Of all mammals, humans have the most intellectual brain at birth and the most immature body to go with it. We need a food source that feeds the brain’s growth and wiring.”
Now, thanks to federal mandates implemented by the Affordable Health Care Act, Baker says, “all women who want help with breast feeding should be able to get help at no additional cost.” Because of this, the need for trained lactation consultants in hospitals and in private practice is growing, as more women take advantage of this offer.
The paths to increasing your education in lactation depend on your needs and your passion. UC San Diego Extension has several programs and can assist you in choosing the right one for you or your facility/agency.