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You might picture breastfeeding as a natural process, something that will come easily because it’s what your body is designed to do. You’ll effortlessly latch after birth, your baby will have no trouble going between breast and bottle and you’ll feed in public like a boss.
Although breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed babies, the reality is that it doesn’t come easy to everyone. Breastfeeding is a learned behavior for both you and your baby, a relationship that takes time and effort to develop, and some women face bigger hurdles than others.
From issues with latching and pumping, to maintaining supply and managing infant growth spurts, breastfeeding can be a wild ride. But there are trained professionals whose job is to help you and your baby thrive at this whole milk-making thing.
Lactation consultants are professionals specially trained in the management of breastfeeding. Some research has shown that meeting with an IBCLC (commonly referred to as a lactation consultant) can help you initiate and continue breastfeeding, as well as overcome barriers.
Read on to learn more about lactation consultants, when to reach out, and how they can help.
There are a few different types of lactation professionals with varying certifications that can help you during your time as a breastfeeding parent. It’s important to know what type of consultant is best for you and what you feel most comfortable with.
The official certification for a lactation consultant is International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, abbreviated as IBCLC. This is the gold standard for lactation training. Professionals who have achieved the IBCLC certification have studied lactation comprehensively, including completion of 90 hours of education, hundreds of hours of clinical lactation support, and a rigorous exam.
Most hospitals have lactation consultants available, but many also work in the community, in clinics, or in private practice. IBCLCs are considered medical professionals—nurses, midwives, nutritionists, and others may have their IBCLC certification.
CLC stands for Certified Lactation Counselor, which is a certification of the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice. People with this training have attended a 45 hour training course and then passed a breastfeeding exam. They may work in clinics, community settings, or in private practice.
Breastfeeding Peer Counselors
Breastfeeding peer counselors are, most often, experienced breastfeeding parents who support other lactating families. They usually have some formal training in breastfeeding and are often employed by community organizations, including WIC.
Doulas and other support people
Other perinatal support people may have training in lactation and provide support as part of their services. Some may be IBCLCs or have other types of certifications, including CLE (certified lactation educator).
Although anyone can call themselves a “lactation consultant,” the term most often refers to IBCLCs.
No time is a bad time to reach out to an LC. They can assist with all types of situations related to lactation, including preparing to breastfeed, education, troubleshooting, clinical issues, and more.
Some reasons you might contact a lactation consultant include:
Some parents find that sharing their struggles with an IBCLC can lead to strategies they hadn’t thought of before. An LC can share simple tips on everyday struggles, like keeping your snuggly newborn awake to latch or preventing a distracted ten-month-old from crawling away during a feed.
Even if nursing seems like it’s going well, there is no harm in checking in with a breastfeeding expert. No question or issue is too small—seriously. You deserve support as you feed your baby, no matter where you are on the journey.
Almost every breastfeeding mother experiences a problem or roadblock at some point. It’s completely normal to have ups and downs. Reaching out for help when you need it can make a huge difference in your overall experience and breastfeeding relationship.
There are over 18,000 IBCLCs here in the US. Although that seems like a lot, it may be difficult to access an IBCLC in some areas or communities. If there is no one you like in your area, don’t worry—lactation care is rapidly becoming more available via telemedicine. You can connect with an IBCLC over Zoom or FaceTime and get the breastfeeding help you need.
You can connect with an IBCLC over Zoom or FaceTime to get the breastfeeding help you need. Supportive programs like Medela Family are free to sign up for and deliver tons of expert-backed tips, content, and resources right to your inbox, so you can be as informed as possible when it comes to common nursing and pumping challenges, balancing work life and breastfeeding, and more.
Some insurance companies will cover visits with lactation consultants, while others do not. If your insurance doesn’t cover breastfeeding support, you may also be able to pay for an IBCLC with HSA funds. Many lactation consultants also offer a sliding scale for their services.
Remember that it’s always ok to ask for help. Breastfeeding is really hard for a lot of mothers—and there is no shame in that. Seeking lactation help not only makes for a better breastfeeding relationship, but it expands and improves your overall emotional support system – a necessary component of motherhood.
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