August 07, 2023
Zohra Kurji, MS, BSN, RN, IBCLC, RM, CHSE-A, a postpartum nurse and lactation consultant at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas is working to make a global change by working with the World Health Organization (WHO) to increase the number of lactation counselors in seven countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Breastfeeding is a global issue. The need for more support is everywhere. Every first-time mom needs education on the benefits of breastfeeding and support to be successful,” said Kurji. “Some countries have resources available like lactation consultants, while other less affluent countries lack such support. That is what drives me to continue on my journey.”
Originally from Pakistan, Kurji worked as a pediatric nurse at Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi. She assisted first-time mothers who struggled to breastfeed. Even with a nursing degree, she did not feel well-equipped to help her patients with their breastfeeding challenges. She fervently believed there should be resources available to develop these skills to help mothers sustain their breastfeeding.
When Kurji gave birth to her twins in 1995, she also struggled to breastfeed.
“I felt I wasn’t able to provide enough breastmilk and I wasn’t giving them what they needed to grow,” said Kurji. “I felt the frustration and guilt of the first-time moms I worked with. When there is no support, there is a gap, and that gap needs to be filled.”
Kurji embarked on a mission to learn more about lactation support. At the time in Pakistan, there was no training available or information about the importance of breastfeeding. Through her research, she learned about the role of lactation consultants, the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) and the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) certification.
In 2007, Kurji completed the required IBCLC online courses and traveled to the United States to sit for the examination. Kurji and two other lactation consultants became the first lactation consultants in Pakistan. But the work didn’t stop there. Kurji quickly began working on acquiring grants from her hospital and university to train additional lactation consultants. In February 2020, Kurji opened the first nurse-led lactation clinic in Pakistan.
Although she permanently moved to Texas in 2020 to be near her children, Kurji remains committed to increasing the number of lactation consultants and resources available worldwide. In addition to her work at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, Kurji continues to work as an assistant professor at Aga Khan University School of Nursing and Midwifery, along with providing clinical research on lactation for organizations such as Duke University and the International Nursing Association for Clinical and Simulation Learning (INACSL).
In 2023, Aga Khan University was contacted by the WHO to do a study on the topic of growth faltering in infants. Malnutrition is a significant problem for infants under six months of age in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The goal of this intervention study is to better understand the effect of lactation consulting and breastfeeding counseling on nutritional supplementation in infants 0 – 6 months of age.
“The dean of my university asked if I would be a part of the study to create a team and serve as a co-investigator for this study,” said Kurji. “I traveled to the WHO headquarters in Switzerland to develop the proposal which will study seven countries: Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda. We will first travel to Uganda to become mater trainers with the WHO breastfeeding curriculum and train lactation counselors who will make an impact and provide support for breastfeeding.”
Many countries still have very few lactation consultants according to the IBLCE. As of January 3, 2023, there are a total of 35,707 lactation consultants worldwide. Of that total, the United States has 19,218 lactation consultants.
Kurji says it is her dream to help train lactation consultants across the world due to her first-hand experience as a mother in Pakistan without access to lactation support. At The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, she is able to use her vast knowledge to connect with patients, relate to multiple cultures and empower women on their breastfeeding journey.
“I am thankful for the opportunities I have had to help shed light on the importance of breastfeeding across the world, but now I get to practice here at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas,” says Kurji. “Every patient has a different story and background. We have such a diversity of patients that we are able to care for and that is the beauty of working in this hospital.”