When pregnant, many moms focus so much on the birth that they skip right over preparing for help after the birth of the baby. But it’s important to have an idea of where to turn if problems crop up. For most mother-baby pairs, breastfeeding goes smoothly, but for others, issues can start almost immediately. Depending on the type of problem, different levels of community support are available.
From the research, we know that a woman will likely turn to her own mother and her partner when breastfeeding problems arise. Educating these members of the team about the importance of breastfeeding before the baby is even born is a perfect way to start creating your support network.
First Steps of Breastfeeding Support
The most informal support for breastfeeding is a woman’s family and friends. While it is nice to have the support of someone familiar, misinformation and myths about breastfeeding persist in our culture. So women should take this advice source with caution, knowing it might be a little biased and not evidence-based.
Another option for support is a breastfeeding counselor. Depending on where you live, this might be with La Leche League International, the Australian Breastfeeding Association, the NCT, or Breastfeeding USA. These counselors may be women who have breastfed their own children, but who have additional training in counseling nursing moms.
Counselors can answer basic breastfeeding questions, as well as provide information and support. They may hold local meetings, offer telephone or email support, or provide assistance via social media. Meetings are a great way to meet other breastfeeding mothers to share frustrations and triumphs. Sharing stories is a great way to build a community of breastfeeding support.
In the United States, women and children who qualify for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) can get breastfeeding support through their local office. The program may consist of help from a peer counselor (a woman who was a WIC client who successfully breastfed her baby) in the mother’s own home or may be from a board-certified lactation consultant in an office setting.
What is a lactation consultant?
If the questions or problems are beyond the education or experience of a lay breastfeeding counselor, a breastfeeding dyad may need the assistance of a lactation consultant. While the title lactation consultant can be used by any number of trained providers, the gold standard in professional lactation management is the International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). These practitioners have specialized training in clinical lactation support.
An IBCLC may be a physician, midwife, dietician, nurse, or experienced breastfeeding counselor. In order to earn this credential, IBCLCs must pass a rigorous certification exam after completing classroom learning and accruing a certain number of clinical hours in breastfeeding management. These professionals must re-certify every 5 years by continuing education credits or by exam.
From pregnancy through the entire breastfeeding experience, an IBCLC can provide support and anticipatory guidance in addition to specific problem solving. An IBCLC will work with a mother and baby pair one-on-one to observe the baby at the breast. The IBCLC helps solve specific breastfeeding issues, as well as counsels families on how to prevent future complications.
Lactation Consultants and Comprehensive-Care Approach
An IBCLC will collaborate with a mother’s and baby’s healthcare providers to ensure comprehensive team approach to care. An IBCLC can be especially helpful with complex problems, such as slow weight gain, low milk supply, pain while breastfeeding, nipple or breast problems, medical-related issues, medications, and more.
In the hospital after birth, the lactation consultant will help you get your baby to the breast as soon as possible and assist throughout your hospital stay to ensure that breastfeeding is proceeding smoothly before discharge. Many hospitals also offer outpatient breastfeeding support, allowing mothers to easily access help in the early days and weeks of feeding.
Some lactation consultants work in hospitals while others may be on staff at a pediatric office. Other IBCLCs operate in private practice — working on their own or in a small group to provide lactation services to families. While these professionals do charge for their time, health insurers are beginning to reimburse for their services. If lactation services are not covered under your health insurance policy, many IBCLCs charge on a sliding scale based on income. The International Lactation Consultant Association maintains a searchable database of members, and the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners offers a registry of lactation consultants.
Are there other types of lactation consultants?
Other practitioners who fall under the label of lactation consultant may have different certifications, such as:
- Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC)
- Certified Lactation Specialist (CLS)
- Certified Breastfeeding Specialist (CBS)
- Lactation Specialist (LS)
- Certified Lactation Educator (CLE)
- Certified Breastfeeding Educator (CBE)
- Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC)
- Certified Community Lactation Educator (LE(C))
In order to fulfill the requirements for these certifications, the provider likely completed a certain number of classroom hours of breastfeeding management training. While some programs have prerequisites for participation, a final exam, recertification requirements, or clinical practice hours, others do not.
With these designations, lactation support is many times provided in conjunction with the care provider’s other professional (for instance, as a doctor, midwife, nurse practitioner, dietician, etc.) While these certificates serve to enhance the professional’s background so they can support nursing mothers more effectively, the scope of practice between the credentials (as well as between the credentials and the IBCLC requirements) varies widely.
Get Breastfeeding Support Today
If you need breastfeeding support — whether you’re pregnant and wanting to know more about the whole thing or you’re struggling through breastfeeding a baby with significant health issues — learn as much as you can about the different credentials so you can be sure you’re getting the best information you can for your situation. Interview providers so you can work with someone who makes you feel comfortable and confident. Don’t be afraid to try another provider if the first one wasn’t a good fit.
Your lactation consultant can be an integral part of your healthcare team and personal web of support. Best of luck!