Breastfeeding is considered the most nutritious, protective, and natural way to feed a baby. It’s a ready supply of all the food and drink a baby needs for around the first six months of their life. It’s specially created with the exact right blend of nutrients for the baby. It’s instantly available day or night and it’s always the right temperature.
It can be the easiest thing in the world… but it can be one of the hardest. Many new mothers struggle to breastfeed for a whole range of reasons, and it’s not always easy to know who to turn to for help. That’s where a lactation consultant can help, providing practical assistance and advice to support breastfeeding mothers.
What is a lactation consultant?
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, except in certain cases, such as mums with health problems or essential medications that can be passed to their babies through their milk. But even without any specific health issues, breastfeeding can be easier said than done and many women will benefit from some help.
A lactation consultant is a breastfeeding specialist trained to teach mothers how to feed babies. Research has shown that a lactation consultants can improve the odds of exclusive breastfeeding persisting for the first month after birth by as much as 1.7 times. Lactation consultants can provide advice and assistance on all kinds of issues experienced by new mothers, such as:
- How to achieve a comfortable latch.
- Techniques on how to induce lactation and maintain a good flow level.
- Different hold techniques.
- How to deal with and avoid problems like cracked nipples.
And much more.
How do you choose a lactation consultant?
The right lactation consultant is the person you feel the most comfortable with, and who you feel has the knowledge and the right approach to help you continue to breastfeed with comfort and confidence. In the end it’s an individual choice, but there are a six things you should consider when you’re choosing a lactation consultant:
- Are they qualified/certified?
- What do they specialize in?
- Where do they work?
- When do they work?
- What is their professional background, or how did they get into being a lactation consultant?
- What are they like personally?
Let’s dig into each of those in detail:
- Are they IBCLC certified? Fortunately, there is a certification that you can ask for, so that you can be confident that someone has a basic level of competence to help you with breastfeeding. You should look for someone who is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
- What specific issues you need help with? It will be beneficial to be clear up front about what you’re looking for help with; some lactation consultants have special expertise in the care of babies (or moms) with health or developmental problems or physical restrictions (e.g. tongue-tie or other situations) affecting their ability to breastfeed. If you need a breastfeeding consultant for problems like latching difficulties, mastitis, inverted nipples or blocked milk ducts, ask about their experience with those things. A really good lactation consultant will be able to recognize when issues are outside of their main areas of expertise and recommend other practitioners.
- Where do they work? It doesn’t matter if they’re the best of the best, if you can’t get to them and they can’t get to you, they can’t help you. Some lactation consultants work mainly through home visits, and a lot of new mums find that it’s easiest to have someone come to the house, rather than try and pack everything up, get through traffic or manoeuvre a stroller on a bus, and then try to get in the right frame of mind to breastfeed in a strange place in front of someone you don’t know, who is assessing your technique (and obviously the disruption won’t be appreciated by baby either). Some breastfeeding specialists run group clinics, both pre and postnatally, to give general advice and the chance for women to connect with others in the same position. The location where they provide their services is also closely related to the next factor…
- When do they work? If you know that it’s only the evening feeds that are a problem, find someone who can visit you in the evenings. If you have a family with a complicated schedule, see how flexible your breastfeeding specialist can be with their time. Some will even visit you in hospital to make sure those first few feeds go smoothly, setting you up for successful breastfeeding. Note that babies can be very inconsiderate when it comes to sticking to appointment times, so ask the consultant how they cope with uncertainty around demand feeding: if you have observed a 30 minute window around when a baby demands a feed, you can schedule your appointment for roughly that time, but how will the consultant accommodate variability in feeding times?
- What’s their background? There are excellent training programs for lactation consultants which means that anyone can become one; many have a background in midwifery or nursing, while some specialize after personal experience of breastfeeding; becoming a peer mentor and then undertaking professional training to work as a lactation consultant. While their background may influence their approach, it’s a vocation and nobody goes into breastfeeding support professions without having a love for it.
- Just… what are they like? Ultimately if it doesn’t feel right then it isn’t. You can meet with or have phone calls with as many people as you like before you choose; a lactation consultant is sharing in one of the most intimate and important parts of a family’s development, and they should be someone you feel completely comfortable with. Teaching methods that work for one new mother might be frustrating or annoying to another. They’re professionals and should be able to adapt their teaching style to the people they’re working with, but if you don’t click, it’s not right.
Get your partner or other support person involved with the search
Considering each of the 6 factors above, it may have occurred to you that only the last point is a subjective personal preference – the rest are all things that someone else can find out for you, which means short-listing lactation consultants is the perfect task for your partner or other support person. As a new mother, you’re busy enough, so let someone else help with the research and logistics side of recruiting the best lactation consultant you can get.
A final message for partners/support persons: the best lactation consultants will also be the busiest – their time is, after all, a limited resource. So it’s a good idea to do a bit of preliminary planning early, potentially even before birth. If it turns out you don’t need a lactation consultant at all, that’s great, but if you do, time wasted and the disappointment of struggling to find someone who comes highly recommended can really ramp up stress levels. A good starting point would be to develop a list of lactation consultants who service your area and try to find reviews of them on parenting forums, then when the feeling is it’s time to bring in a lactation consultant, at least you will have phone numbers and email addresses to hit the ground running.
About Intrepid Wellbeing
Sam R. is a Product Manager at Intrepid Wellbeing, makers of the Intrepid Pillbox supplements/medication planning and reminders app.
Intrepid Wellbeing publishes content on tips, tools, and technologies to help busy individuals get healthy and stay healthy with their active lifestyles, touching on topics such as travel, family health, including information on prenatal nutrition.