One of the most surprising things that many new breastfeeding moms find is how difficult the “natural” process of nursing can be in the early days. The picture in your mind of quietly rocking your baby while he or she nurses contently at your breast can quickly be shattered the moment that you experience chaffed, cracked or bleeding nipples or a baby who refuses to latch properly. Lactation consultants can help you and your little one breastfeed properly, answer any questions you have about nursing and give you the support you need to succeed.
What is a Lactation Consultant?
It’s normal to experience some difficulties when you first begin breastfeeding. A lactation consultant is a highly trained professional who has been specially trained in giving breastfeeding support. Many nurses and doctors aren’t trained to spot common problems in breastfeeding, such as a poor latch or improper positioning. Lactation consultants can help to identify what problems you are experiencing during breastfeeding and help treat them. Lactation consultants can give you much-needed support while you and your little one navigate the new experience of breastfeeding and help you to realize your breastfeeding goals.
Lactation Specialists versus Lactation Consultants
A lactation specialist, also known as a breastfeeding counselor, is someone who is an experienced breastfeeding mother who has breastfed their own child for a minimal period of six to 12 months. A lactation specialist is certified by the breastfeeding group where she works, such as La Leche League.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) is an internationally recognized breastfeeding professional. They must be specially trained, demonstrate at least 1,000 hours of extensive clinical experience, have at least 90 hours of advanced lactation education and must sit a clinical exam. They must recertify every five years in order to keep their accreditation.
How a Lactation Consultant Can Help You
A lactation consultant won’t push you to only breastfeed or shame you if you need to stop nursing. Their only goal is to help and support you in your unique breastfeeding needs. This can include:
- Showing you how to use a breast shield
- Helping you to use a breast pump
- Offering tips for safely handling pumped breastmilk
- Showing you the proper way to hold your baby during nursing
- Helping your baby to latch properly
- Diagnosing problems that can interfere with nursing, such as a tongue or lip tie
- Offering you suggestions for building up your milk supply
- Giving you tips on different breastfeeding positions
How to Determine if You Need a Lactation Consultant
First of all, if you are experiencing breastfeeding problems, know that you are not alone. Studies estimate that 25 to 66 percent of new moms face significant difficulties within the first week of nursing. Getting help doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good mom or that you can’t be successful at breastfeeding.
Lactation consultants can help you with any difficulties you may be experiencing. These difficulties may include:
- Sore nipples
- Pain during and after nursing
- Low milk supply
- Inverted or flat nipples
- Baby who won’t “stay on” the breast
- Baby who has lost more than 10 percent of his or her birth weight
- Baby who has low muscle tone
- Baby who has a tongue or lip tie
- Pumping tips for when you return to work
Best Ways to Find a Consultant
You can find a certified lactation consultant by looking at the directory at the International Lactation Consultant Association’s web directory. You can also find a consultant by talking with your OBGYN, your midwife or the hospital where you gave birth.
Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance providers are required to cover lactation services, as well as breast pumps. If you would like to use a provider recommended by your insurance, talk with your insurance about lactation consultants who are contracted providers.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be a frustrating or painful experience. If you are having problems, reach out to a lactation consultant as soon as possible in order to get the help and support you need. With the right help, you can have the wonderful experience of breastfeeding that you imagined.