Case Studies: Lactnet

LISTSERV Choice Awards Grand Prize Winner: Lactnet

LISTSERV Choice Awards

Lactnet is a LISTSERV® email list for anyone involved in providing support to mothers in breastfeeding their infants and young children. Lactnet's members include lactation consultants, lay breastfeeding counselors, nurses, doctors, midwives, public health advocates, pharmacologists, marketing experts, writers, journalists, scientists, dieticians and doulas (natural birthing assistants). The list, which has been operating for 11 years, has approximately 3,500 subscribers from 38 countries, covering every continent except Antarctica.

The type of discussions that occur on the Lactnet list include brainstorming difficult breastfeeding problems; debating ethical issues; sharing information on newly published articles, books or research; dialogue about controversial issues; networking and sharing emotional and informational support among members. In addition to daily postings and digests, Lactnet has public list archives that provide members as well as the general public with a wealth of information and inspiration.

Lactnet was founded in 1995 by Kathleen Bruce, a Vermont nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and Kathleen Auerbach, PhD, IBCLC, who wanted to create a network of support for isolated lactation consultants who lacked the benefit of local peers, and is led by Bruce and five other co-facilitators ("listmothers") across three continents. The listmothers attribute the success of Lactnet to the subscribers' commitment to breastfeeding and to maintaining dialogue with others across professional, cultural, political and religious divisions. Lactnet is made up of all the people who contribute to the discussions; on Lactnet, novices can glean knowledge from some of the foremost experts in the field, assisting them to develop their own expertise that they in turn can pass on to others in the field and to the breastfeeding mothers they support.

In their communities and workplaces, Lactnet subscribers face many challenges including isolation and marginalization, lack of understanding of the risks of premature weaning and the importance of breastfeeding and a dearth of local resources to address unusual clinical situations. In what is still a developing field, Lactnet gives practitioners the opportunity to exchange ideas across the globe. And although the circumstances in which individual members work may vary widely, the knowledge base that is shared on the list can be adjusted to local needs and, in turn, help members to help mothers overcome nearly any breastfeeding challenge.

A key example of the willingness of subscribers to share their knowledge and resources came just after the events of September 11, 2001, in which Lactnet members from New York received support from members living in other nations where acts of terrorism are common. The international community prepared the New York Lactnet members for the kinds of queries they might get and problems they might see as the city of New York reacted to what had happened that day.

In another instance, a lactation consultant who was caring for a woman whose baby had a rare life-threatening condition posted a message to Lactnet asking for information on how to assist this mother. A Lactnet subscriber connected the lactation consultant with medical specialists who have extensive knowledge of this condition, and, in turn, the specialists assisted the child's healthcare providers. The mother was relieved that good information and networking led to specialized care for her child and the continuation of her being able to provide her child with breastmilk. With Lactnet, this type of sharing of expertise, information and contacts happens every day.

Lactnet achieves these results through L-Soft's EASESM hosted email list solution, powered by LISTSERV®. "The best solution from the point of view of Lactnet's administrators is one that we don't notice, that is, it runs itself. L-Soft provides us with that product," says Rachel Myr, list co-facilitator, of Norway.

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