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World Breastfeeding Week 2019: Calling for Gender-Equitable Care

Two dads with newborn and healthcare worker for World Breastfeeding Week 2019

Each year, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy (WABA) establishes a slogan. The slogan for World Breastfeeding Week 2019 is: EMPOWER PARENTS, ENABLE BREASTFEEDING, Now and for the future! Similarly, each year, WABA lists four objectives related to their slogan. This year’s are:  

  • Gender-equitable social protection in all its forms can help enable breastfeeding.
  • Empowering parents and ensuring their rights require that we advocate for policies, legislation, parent-friendly workplaces, and gender-equitable social norms.
  • Gender-equitable parental social protection is important in both the formal and informal sectors.
  • Gender-equitable parental social protection also advances the sustainable development goals.

Note that the term gender-equitable appears in all four objectives.

How do we foster gender-equitable healthcare?

There’s a lot to unpack here. WABA does a little to explain their slogan, but they do not define “gender-equitable.” However, the World Health Organization (WHO) says, “[e]quity differs from equality: while equality carries a notion of sameness, equity carries a definition of fairness.”  

The WHO says, “A focus on equity in health refers to the absence of unfair and avoidable or preventable difference in health between population or groups that are defined socially, economically, demographically, or geographically.”

Hence, by the WHO’s definition, equality implies that one group should have the same opportunity or consideration or access as another group. But equity is about justice and fairness.

As professionals, what we might do or say in a day that is unfair for the LGBTQIA clients? And how do we overcome that? One place to start is by educating ourselves with the A.S.K method: attitude, skill, knowledge.

What are my attitudes about LGBTQIA?

In our recent interview, Stephanie Brown, IBCLC, pointed out that hanging a rainbow flag outside of your office isn’t enough, and it may result in “othering.” And, that waving or selling the flags during Pride month doesn’t cut it either. Stephanie reminds us that it could be just a way to make money, and begs the question, “where are those folks the other 11 months of the year?”

While World Breastfeeding Week 2019 does not specifically mention these points, we have a responsibility to ask ourselves if our outward gestures match our internal attitudes. 

What are my skills to support LGBTQIA parents?

Now here’s a fundamental question: Am I conversant in gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language? And, if not, why not? Without these basic communications skills (discussed in an earlier post), we cannot give equitable care.

World Breastfeeding Week 2019 is, of course, focused on breastfeeding. Because of our expertise and commitment to the field, we’ll also need advanced skills for the LGBTQIA community. For example, what about the parent who cannot lactate (or cannot fully lactate)? In other words, better brush up on skills related to induced lactation!

What is my knowledge about LGBTQIA needs and issues?

This question might be as broad as, Do I understand that it’s not just the patients who are discriminated against? Studies have shown that self-identified LGBTQIA providers are less likely to get referrals from their colleagues.  

What do we know about health disparities among the LGBTQIA community? HealthyPeople 2020 illuminates some of those.

Or, perhaps LGBTQIA parents want donor milk for their newborn. Do you know what your hospital policy says? Does the policy forbid it, or just not address it? Do you even have a policy on the use of donated milk? If you don’t, do you even know the main parts of a policy so that you can lead efforts to draft a new policy?

Moving forward with World Breastfeeding Week 2019 objectives

Certainly, we can’t pretend that LGBTQIA parents aren’t out there, or that we’ll never encounter them. According to a recent Gallup poll, 29% of those identifying as LGBT[QIA] are raising children.   

As we review the World Breastfeeding Week 2019 slogan and objectives, it’s likely that all of us could do a little better this year with providing care for the LGBTQIA community. I’ve provided special resources for World Breastfeeding Week 2019, including a free handout you may use for yourself, or you may distribute to others. The handout challenges all of us to look at ourselves and our clinical environments. It also helps gain basic communication skills and related skills in our specialty areas. Finally, it provides links to multiple resources to help us do all of that.

How do you plan to accomplish the objectives of World Breastfeeding Week 2019 as they relate to gender-equitable care? Tell me in the comments below! And, in the spirit of celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, share this post with a friend!

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