The Emerging Leaders in Lactation Scholarship: Making Lactation Care More Accessible in Medan, Indonesia

As a new mother, Ingrid Siahaan, MD, MPH, IBCLC experienced breastfeeding challenges and struggled to find the support she needed.  Finally, when her son was seven months old, she found an IBCLC paediatrician in another province in her country who was able to help.  In the part of Indonesia where she lived with her family, breastfeeding resources were scarce: there were a few breastfeeding counsellors and just one IBCLC in the whole province.  Dr. Siahaan resolved to make breastfeeding knowledge and care more accessible in her community.  As she focused on her work in lactation, she decided that becoming an IBCLC would allow her to make a bigger impact.

Dr. Siahaan began working as a breastfeeding counsellor at a local church hospital’s lactation clinic.  This gave her flexibility as a mother to care for her children and work in the lactation field but with an inconsistent income, as many of the clients paid what they could afford.

Dr. Siahaan knew that the IBCLC examination was a serious undertaking.  She wanted to be prepared.  However, the cost of online educational courses, lactation books that needed to be ordered from overseas, and internships were more than her family could manage at the time.  Luckily, one day a friend, whom she had helped to breastfeed her baby girl, sent her information on Facebook about the Monetary Investment for Lactation Consulting Certification® (MILCC®) Emerging Leaders in Lactation Scholarship.  She was nervous to submit her application, but, with the encouragement of her friend and her husband, she applied.  She was accepted in 2017.

The scholarship took much of the financial pressure off of Dr. Siahaan on her path to becoming an IBCLC.  She ordered the books she needed.  She registered for an examination preparation course.  The scholarship also covered her IBCLC examination fee. In 2019, Dr. Siahaan passed the examination and became an IBCLC.

As an IBCLC, Dr. Siahaan is more confident helping breastfeeding mothers.  She learned so much on her path to becoming an IBCLC and continues to hone her skills by joining IBCLC professional groups and networking with colleagues at nonprofit and government health organisations.  All of this, she says, means she is better able to serve moms and babies.

Dr. Siahaan is on a mission to make breastfeeding more accessible in her community.  While the pandemic has disrupted her in-person work, Dr. Siahaan works with families at a local lactation clinic – temporarily via online consultations – and discusses breastfeeding in community groups.  She also writes articles for a national monthly magazine to share information about the health advantages and happiness that comes from breastfeeding.  Many parents who read these articles and had difficult breastfeeding experiences contact her to prepare before the birth of their next child.

She also works to equip other healthcare providers with the knowledge and skills to support and encourage mothers in their breastfeeding journeys – and to make sure they know how essential this breastfeeding support is to the families they serve and for infant health. There are still just a few breastfeeding counsellors in her area, but Dr. Siahaan is determined to change that.  She encourages others to continue their education to become IBCLCs so that more families can find the breastfeeding support they need.