LCANZ Member Spotlight: Ruth O’Donovan

Ruth O’Donovan trained as a nurse and midwife in Dublin, Ireland before moving with her family to her husband’s home town of Christchurch in 2007. It was after the birth of her third baby in 2008 that she decided to follow her interest in breastfeeding and became an IBCLC in 2010. She worked at Christchurch Women’s Hospital as both a core midwife and IBCLC until December 2011.

In December 2011, Ruth took the position of Lactation Consultant for the primary health organisation, Rural Canterbury. This health board funded role, provides the service of two fulltime IBCLCs, Ruth and her colleague Vicki Patterson. This free infant feeding service provides care over a large geographical area, both urban and rural. For this reason, clinics have been set up within the region to assist with the demand required.

The IBCLCs provide consultations at either the woman’s home or at these clinics. Another part of the service, are the breastfeeding peer support groups which run alongside some of the lactation consultant’s clinics. This collaboration between the two services works well as mothers are introduced to peer supporters to enable more long term support with breastfeeding. There are nine breastfeeding groups running weekly within the Canterbury region.

One of the aims of this service is to help increase breastfeeding rates within Maori and Pacific Island communities. Therefore, some clinics and groups have been set up in these communities.

Referrals for this service are made through midwives (Lead Maternity Carer), GP’s, Practice Nurses and Well Child Nurses or any health care provider that feels a mother and baby would benefit from a consultation. On average, we receive 90 referrals per month directly to the lactation consultancy service. This equates to approximately 20% of the birth population within the Canterbury region. The nine breastfeeding support groups can reach a combined monthly attendance of 160 women. These numbers are increasing which really highlights the need for support for breastfeeding mothers.

Over the last two years, Ruth and Vicki have been involved with a professional working group devising a clinical pathway for the assessment and management of tongue tie in Canterbury. This was in response to the increasing numbers of releases taking place. It was reported in 2015 that 11% of the Canterbury birth population had tongue tie releases. The pathway introduced a tongue function assessment, Bristol Tongue Assessment Tool, alongside a breastfeeding consultation with a lactation consultant. From this assessment, which incorporates all possible factors affecting feeding, a referral will be made to Christchurch Women’s Hospital for further assessment and release if required. The pathway allows for assessment and management of tongue function of newborn babies and babies over the age of eight weeks. This new clinical pathway commenced in February 2017 and it is estimated that the number of releases required will drop to a rate of 3%.

Also as part of the IBCLC role, Ruth presents at health professional development study days/ seminars/conferences for nurses, midwives, GP’s and dieticians amongst others.

Although busy with three children, Ruth has reignited her love of dancing and has entered the New Zealand Masters Games for 2018 for formation dance.

Ruth is delighted to take on the role of Director of Membership New Zealand for her first term on the LCANZ Board. She hopes to improve relationships of the IBCLC profession within New Zealand and Australia.

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