Four Ways to Look Beyond the Breast When Supporting Lactation

September 16, 2019

Rebeca Pacheco-Hidalgo is a hospital-based lactation consultant for Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, where she assists with everything from childbirth preparation to breastfeeding support. The California Breastfeeding Coalition (CBC) board member educates hospital patients and staff while supporting systems that increase the likelihood that families will try breastfeeding.

Pacheco-Hidalgo has been serving breastfeeding mothers since 2005, beginning as a peer counselor for WIC-SLAHP. She became a Certified Lactation Educator in 2007, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) in 2009 and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 2011.

Coming from the peer support side of breastfeeding work has given Pacheco-Hidalgo insight into the common ties that bind together mothers of all backgrounds and experiences.

“A woman could be the most educated, but when her baby is crying at 2 a.m.and won’t settle, she is no different than the mom who just got here from a different country or had a baby with no education or preparation,” Pacheco-Hidalgo said. “She feels lost, she doesn’t know what to do, and she’s desperate for help.”

This is where Pacheco-Hidalgo and professionals like her come into play. Whether teaching a birth preparation class or visiting a newly postpartum mom, she works to help her understand the challenges that might come in in the early days of a baby’s life.

Having a Baby: The Great Equalizer

Equity in breastfeeding access and support begins with understanding that having a newborn evens the playing field, putting all moms in a vulnerable position. Pacheco-Hidalgo is passionate about making support accessible to all moms because she’s not forgotten her own journey. 

“I was ‘that mom;’ I fed my oldest formula because I didn’t know otherwise,” the mom of three recalled. “I breastfed my second with minimal education or support, and I was still learning when I had my third.”

Those babies are now 21, 14 and 5. And because Pacheco-Hidalgo knows better now, her children do, too. Feeding human milk to a baby is natural to them, because they’ve seen her work and the effect it’s had on families — an experience that’s not typical in many U.S.Hispanic families.

Rewriting Cultural Norms

Having lived in Mexico as an adult and serving Spanish-speaking patients at Good Sam, Pacheco-Hidalgo is hyper-aware of the cultural taboos surrounding lactating and breastfeeding in Hispanic homes.

Whether in Mexico or here in the U.S., Pacheco-Hidalgo has observed breastfeeding treated as a private act. Moms cover up or separate themselves from the rest of the family. A big difference, though, is community.

“Spanish-speaking countries have a village culture,” Pacheco-Hidalgo said. “There are sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers and friends who will surround a mother with support. Life and lifestyle are very different here in California.”

Serving the Nation by Protecting and Promoting Breastfeeding

National Hispanic Heritage Month, observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, celebrates the histories, cultures and contributions of those whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. The theme for 2019 is Hispanic Americans: A History of Serving Our Nation.

For professionals like Pacheco-Hidalgo, supporting an increase in breastfeeding rates in the Los Angeles area is the highest service to current and future generations.

CBC Executive Director Robbie Gonzalez-Dow said providers like Pacheco-Hidalgo, who have worked in both community and clinical settings are precious.

“As professionals, we know how important breastfeeding is to the health and well-being of women and children,” Gonzalez-Dow said. “But Rebeca’s background and experience in the hospital, her private practice and in her community is vital to providing empathetic services that are practical and accessible for every family she encounters.”

Look Beyond the Breast

After more than a decade of serving families and offering birth and breastfeeding support, Pacheco-Hidalgo has four suggestions to those seeking to improve outcomes in their work:

  • Remember that we all need help — Every birth experience is different and breastfeeding challenges do not discriminate. They can strike a seasoned mom with multiple children just as easily as a first-time mother.
  • Look beyond the breast — Don’t get so focused on the specific act of breastfeeding that you forget about the rest of the woman you’re working with. Ask questions about what she wants, what she needs and what she wishes.
  • Listen — A woman communicates with more than just her words. When you ask her questions, truly listen to what she says. Pay attention to her body language, make eye contact. Take the time to get to know her as a person while you’re attending to her breastfeeding needs.
  • Support each other — This work can be heavy and intense. Supporting breastfeeding moms often requires a high investment of time and energy. When you support your peers, you are helping them to avoid burnout and be more effective in their work.

Pacheco-Hidalgo will share her experience and perspective at the California Breastfeeding Summit, which takes place from Jan. 21 through 23 in Sacramento. She and fellow CBC board member Devona Robertson, who serves the Inland Empire, will cover labor support and breastfeeding during their 90-minute session on Day 3.

“Support changes everything,” Gonzalez-Dow said. “The work that Rebeca and Devona do in their communities pays off now and in the future. We see it all the time. Women who receive solid breastfeeding support pass on what they know to friends and relatives, and some even become International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, like Rebeca and Devona. This work reaches into communities where we as professionals might never go.”

How are You Helping Future Generations?

Do you have a story to share? We want to hear how what you’re doing now is making a difference for the future. Whether you’re a researcher, coalition member, working in private practice, in a hospital or for a community agency, we want to hear what’s working in your daily life and the trends you’re observing. Email