Improving relationships between parents and health care providers

I’ve been on a quest for the “perfect” pediatrician since before my first baby was born. Over four years later, I have yet to find him or her. Thankfully, I think we’ve come close with our current pediatrician. I’m not thrilled with her infant feeding suggestions, I despise the “ABCs (Always Alone, on Back, in a Crib) of Safe Sleep” message that scrolls across the computer screen in her exam rooms, and the office receptionist is sort of cranky. Even so, our current pediatrician is the first one to respect my husband and me as our children’s health authorities. She has created a space where we can have conversations about our choices, and she is committed to working as a team. That’s what makes her practically perfect.

d4f77497-2801-4d5c-9833-180a2957a4e8Over one month has passed since the 22nd Annual International Breastfeeding Conference, and I am still sifting through my notes. One of the themes that has struck me most recently is this idea of parental empowerment; it comes up in nearly all of the speakers’ presentations. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of conference participants believe that parents are the experts on their children and thus should be treated as their health authorities.

But how exactly does this play out in practice? How can parents and health care providers work hand in hand for the best possible health outcomes? How can an effective and respectful relationship be cultivated when many health care providers have worked in a landscape where they are regarded as the professionals and often assume the primary caretaker role?

As we discussed some of these conundrums, Healthy Children Project’s Elyse Blair RN, BSN, ANLC, IBCLC, a former NICU nurse and lactation consultant, shared how difficult it can be for nurses to relinquish control, even when it’s to the baby’s own parents.  

“These are our babies too,” she said, mentioning the bonds nurses often develop with babies in the NICU.

Conference speakers and participants soaking in the sun!
Dr. Maastrup and friends soaking in the sun at the International Conference!

Dr. Ragnhild Maastrup, RN, IBCLC, PhD  acknowledged this challenge.

“They (health care providers) are just as important as before, but they should use their knowledge to help the parents,” she commented.

Healthy Children Project’s Cindy Turner-Maffei,  MA, ALC, IBCLC directed us to the work of Anette Ekström. Ekström and colleagues’ research shows that process-oriented training is an effective way to improve professionals’ attitudes toward parental support. (Check out A Process-Oriented Breastfeeding Training Program for Healthcare Professionals to Promote Breastfeeding: An Intervention Study and Nurses and midwives professional support increases with improved attitudes – design and effects of a longitudinal randomized controlled process-oriented intervention.)

Health care providers need to be equipped with the proper tools in order to effectively interact with and teach parents, which will in turn equip parents with the proper tools to function as an empowered family.

During another discussion, Turner-Maffei shared that many care providers feel like they need to make all people breastfeed. She likened this mentality to cracking open someone’s skull and pouring in information. (What a gory and awesome analogy!)

This is not what it’s about, Turner-Maffei continued.

“It should be a dialogue!” she exclaimed. Of course this applies to any health-related decision.  

Certainly when policies and practices shift, like when facilities work toward Baby-Friendly designation, there is a learning curve for staff. Turner-Maffei suggested that change can be most difficult for mid-career professionals. Care providers who find themselves in this situation should evaluate their goals. Ask themselves, “What does success look like for me?” Turner-Maffei said.

Linda Smith, MPH, FACCE, IBCLC, FILCA added that people who see success in others as opposed to those who thrive on individual success tend to more easily welcome changes that empower parents.

I always believed that change was never easy, no matter what kind of person you are. But Cathy Holland, RN, BS, IBCLC, FACCE so brilliantly pointed out that change can be easy during her conference presentation Energy medicine and breastfeeding.

You too can try the simple exercise she shared with us. Clasp your hands together. Note which thumb is on top. Now clasp your hands so that the other thumb is on top. How does it feel? Reclasp your hands alternating which thumb is on top for one minute. Make sure to completely unclasp your hands at each rotation. Now reclasp your hands with the thumb on top that you initially began with. How does it feel?

Dr. Flacking speaks at the International Conference.
Dr. Flacking speaks at the International Conference.

Initially, many people report that when they change the placement of the top thumb, it feels severely uncomfortable, but after several alternating clasps, the placement of the thumb is no longer an issue.

“New experiences may feel strange at the beginning, but give them a chance,” Holland said. “New and great opportunities are at our ‘fingertips!’”
Finally, Dr. Renée Flacking, RN, PhD declared that parents are the driving force for change. We have the power to put pressure on policymakers and administrators. We have the right to demand respectful, family-centered care.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.