I worked alongside and trained doctors in the countryside as well as nurses, midwives and doctors in the local hospitals. This was both a privilege as well as a challenge.
Teaching medical staff. During my first years in China, I mainly trained village and township level doctors. They’re called doctors, but most haven’t had much formal training at all. They learn a lot “on the job”. As I trained them to improve the antenatal care, we did every part of the mother’s care together, not once, not twice, not three times, no, many times! Most of them eventually got it. But once they took care of a mother who was not in our program, they would go back to their “old ways” of doing things, which is less than the bare minimum. It is hard to grasp what motivates these doctors. People do what they’re told, not more, not less. In the local hospital I now work, doctors, nurses and midwives don’t always have enough time to sit next to a mother to help her succeed with breastfeeding. Yet, it does sometimes feel as if that is not the only reason that the mothers don’t get the support they need. Apart from the fact that they don’t always know how to help the mother succeed with breastfeeding, they are also not used to go the extra mile to help mothers. This makes it hard to change things for the better within the medical system. Perseverance and being faithful in what I do does help though! After going to the hospital every week to teach and see newly delivered mothers since February 2015, I gradually see a change of attitude. At one point, I had a medical student follow me around, ask questions, and making notes. Another time, I reported back to the doctor in charge, she was very understanding and positive and willing to follow-up.
It has been a privilege and a challenge to help, train and work alongside the medical staff and the expectant and new mothers. It often feels like I’m going against the tide. American pediatrician, Jenny Thomas, explained in a presentation I listened to, how little doctors in the West know about breastfeeding. Yet, as medical doctors they feel they ought to know it all, they’re hesitant to ask for help. Even in the West trying to improve breastfeeding practices can feel like a war. Her advice is: “Win the war, but not each battle! Celebrate each small step!” That is a good thing to keep in mind!