Breast milk and labour support: lactation consultants’ and doulas’ strategies for navigating the medical context of maternity care

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This article provides a comparison of two occupational groups working in maternity care: International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, who assist women with breastfeeding, and DONA International certified birth doulas, who provide physical, emotional and informational support to birthing women. Using interviews with 18 lactation consultants and 16 doulas working in the USA, I compare these two groups’ strategies for gaining entrance to the maternity care team and their abilities to create change in maternity care practices. Due to the organisation of occupational boundaries in maternity care and differences between the influence of the medicalisation of breastfeeding versus that of childbirth on those boundaries, lactation consultants are able to utilise a front-door entrance to the medical maternity system, entering as lactation specialists and advocates, while doulas use a back-door entrance, emphasising their care work and downplaying their advocacy. These different strategies result in different methods being available to each for effecting change. Lactation consultants create formal change, such as changing hospital policies and practices to be more pro-breastfeeding. Doulas create change informally, ‘one birth at a time’, by creating space for natural birth to occur in the hospital, as well as exposing medical providers to non-medical ways of giving birth.

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