Breastfeeding is natural...the way God intended for babies to be fed. So it should be easy and automatic, right?
Well, maybe in a perfect world. But unfortunately, not in this one. Some lucky mothers never have the first problem. Baby is born, goes to the breast, latches on like a champ, gains weight and grows beautifully! The reality for many mothers, though, is that breastfeeding can be a real challenge. In fact, many moms just give up because they feel like they just can't do it. That's where a good lactation consultant is worth her weight in gold!
What Is a Lactation Consultant?
A Lactation Consultant is a health care professional who has received specialized training in the management of breastfeeding. She knows how to help moms who are having problems with latch-on, with milk supply, with sore nipples or engorgement and with sick babies. She can help a mother figure out what medications are safe to take while breastfeeding. She is both cheerleader and coach.
Unlike a peer counselor or La Leche League leader, she charges for her services because she is a professional who carries malpractice insurance and has worked hard to receive her professional credentials. Many times she will encourage mothers to seek out peer counselors or La Leche League groups for ongoing support because she recognizes the vital role they play in helping breastfeeding moms succeed.
The "gold standard" for lactation consultants is the designation International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). All IBCLC's will also have the designation Registered Lactation Consultant (RLC). To become an IBCLC, the candidate must be able to prove extensive education in the field of human lactation. She (or he - some male physicians are IBCLC's) must also have documented a specified number of hours of direct contact helping mothers and babies breastfeed. Then the candidate takes a challenging board exam and must achieve a passing score. Every 5 years IBCLC's must recertify either by continuing education hours or by exam. However, they are required to recertify by exam at least once every 10 years.
Other programs do exist that certify lactation educators or breastfeeding consultants, but none is as stringent as the IBCLC. Hospitals looking for a breastfeeding professional want the IBCLC designation, and honestly, if you're looking for the best possible care, you should, too. You can find an IBCLC near you at the ILCA site.
When Should You Call?
As long as your baby is nursing well, you're nipples aren't sore, and baby is gaining weight, you probably won't need to see a Lactation Consultant. However, if your nipples are still sore after the first few days, or your baby isn't gaining weight like he should, you definitely need to set up an appointment. Some IBCLC's will come to your house. That is really the ideal because you are in your own environment, and she can help you find the very best way to nurse there. However, you may have to go to her office. Be sure to take your breast pump and any other accessories you have been using.
Often nursing will start out just fine, then after several weeks or months, all of a sudden mom's nipples will become very tender. It's a good idea to go see a lactation consultant so she can check you for thrush. Sometimes when a mom returns to work she will need to see a lactation consultant to put together a pumping plan. IBCLC's are usually able to help working mothers find a way to blend breastfeeding and work fairly seamlessly. Occasionally a mom will get sick or need surgery. The IBCLC can help her create a plan to sustain breastfeeding through this period.
Many hospitals have one or more lactation consultants on staff. It's always a good idea for first time mothers to make sure they get to see one before they go home with their new baby. However, many IBCLC's are in private practice. They tend to do home visits and may even have a breast pump rental business. Some IBCLC's host support groups for moms. If you are able to attend a moms' group hosted by an IBCLC, by all means do so. You will get expert advice without paying consult fees. Furthermore, being around other nursing mothers will encourage you, and you just might encourage them, too.
Next week IBCLC's from all over the world will converge on Orlando for the International Lactation Consultant Association meeting. This professional organization for IBCLC's (and those studying to become IBCLC's) helps members stay up-to-date in their practice. Recent research will be presented, and participants will come away renewed and re-energized to provide you with the very best breastfeeding support available!