The Emerging Leaders in Lactation (ELL) Scholarship: Building Breastfeeding Support Systems in Oaxaca, Mexico
Fourteen years ago, Melisa Gómez López was a first-time mother in Oaxaca, Mexico. Instinctively, she began to seek support from other women who were breastfeeding, but she couldn’t find any existing support groups in her community. Undeterred, she set out to form her own group. Through the years, the group grew and adapted to meet the changing needs of the community: sporadic meetings at first, to a more formal La Leche League structure for a time, to a broader focus on parenting issues – including but not limited to breastfeeding.
Through her volunteer organising and two more children of her own, Melisa came to understand just how important it is to provide breastfeeding support in an inviting, accurate, and appropriate way. After so many years supporting families on their breastfeeding journeys, she was ready to take the next step and increase her knowledge and skills by becoming an IBCLC.
As there were no other IBCLCs in Oaxaca, Melisa wanted to connect with others who knew the path towards the IBCLC credential. She joined an online group for lactation supporters in Latin America so that she could benefit from others’ experiences, knowledge, and reflections. This is where she learned about the Monetary Investment for Lactation Consultant Certification (MILCC) Emerging Leaders in Lactation (ELL) scholarship.
Melisa was awarded the ELL scholarship in 2017, and it represented a critical turning point to becoming an IBCLC. It allowed her to complete the education requirements and clinical practise hours – and at the same time ensure that her children were safe and cared for while she completed her studies and internships.
In 2019, many years after she first looked for support at the beginning of her own breastfeeding journey, Melisa became certified as an IBCLC. She uses her knowledge and expertise to continue to uplift breastfeeding support and civic groups in her community. She sees these organisations as an important place where women can learn from each other in a relaxed and empathetic environment. She hopes to continue to develop leaders who, like her, join when they need breastfeeding support and stay involved to share their knowledge with others.
The IBCLC credential has allowed Melisa to reach families in new places such as clinics and hospitals. She is also working to become involved in national organisations for IBCLCs and continues to foster a close relationship with a network of breastfeeding supporters in Oaxaca. Ultimately, she is working to elevate breastfeeding as an important public health issue and hopes to ensure “that there is always a person with the knowledge, capacity, and ethics to provide care and support for any woman and any baby in the state of Oaxaca.”