What Does a Lactation Consultant Really Do?
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
Many years before I became a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I became a mother. In the span of four years, I birthed three darling kiddos. We are way past the breastfeeding days now & while I sailed through feeding my first and third child, I did not have the same experience with my second. I really struggled with latch, milk supply & a very fussy baby who seemed to cry more then he should.
I didn't understand why & frankly, I was too busy, tired & overwhelmed to figure it out. If only I had sought the expertise of an IBCLC back then, I could have alleviated a lot of worry, frustration & doubt. I could have had answers & a plan with evidence based tools & strategies to manage what was really happening, instead of pushing through & simply surviving. I could have had professional support instead of well intended advice from friends who unknowingly damaged our breastfeeding experience and ultimately, the outcome.
My story is not meant to scare you. There are many stories with different outcomes & success is as YOU define it & what works for you and your family. Whether this sounds familiar or you still aren't sure why an IBCLC can help, understanding our role & competencies can shed some light.
IBCLC's are allied health professionals. We are experts in the field of human lactation, having intensely studied, observed & trained with laser focus to understand function & apply the appropriate strategies to support the mother/baby couplet when a breakdown in the breastfeeding & lactation process occurs. We have also acquired a specialized skill set to help parents adapt alternative feeding strategies if & when feeding on the breast is not possible.
IBCLCs have in-depth knowledge of the whole breastfeeding DYAD. Think about that for a second! That means that we must listen, observe, assess & treat not one patient but both simultaneously as mom & baby work together to breastfeed.
We possess deep knowledge of breast anatomy, the science of milk production, the mechanics of milk transfer & the impact maternal factors, gestation, labor & birth can have on a baby's structure & function. IBCLCs also retain competencies in newborn growth & development, keenly observing, assessing & determining when intervention & referrals are needed.
We must carefully develop & manage an appropriate plan of care that is in the best interest of the dyad, backed by current evidence & the highest quality care. We should also recognize when & how a care plan needs to change, adapting to the ever evolving needs of mom & baby.
Lactation consultants are often working in the trenches with postpartum families when they are most fragile & vulnerable. We are also one of the first points of contact a new mother may have, giving us the opportunity to screen for postpartum mood disorders & knowing when & who to collaborate with to ensure continuity of care while protecting the most favorable outcome based on their goals.
Guess what? IBCLCs don't just work with newborns! We counsel parents with older babies too and help with everything from persistent pain, low supply & combination feeding to going back to work, pumping, introducing solids, weaning & more.
Often over looked & under valued, meeting with an IBCLC before your baby arrives has many benefits. For first timers, simply learning what to expect in those early days & weeks can be extremely helpful & empowering. It provides parents a sound knowledge base, dispelling common misconceptions that can sabotage breast or chest feeding and filling them with confidence.
No matter what, your IBCLC should be nonjudgemental, anti-racist, ethical & inclusive. We must be in tune to the very special needs of ALL new parents regardless of family circumstances, gender identification, race, ethnicity & religious or spiritual beliefs.
For the experienced parent, it is coming to the realization that no two babies or feeding experiences are the same & simply knowing when to seek help from an experienced lactation consultant. Not all IBCLCs are the same, so if you don't "click" with yours or feel that you are not receiving the right care for you & your baby - it is OK to seek a second opinion.
Whether you are a new kid on the block or a seasoned pro, I feel confident speaking for my fellow
IBCLC's when I say that it is our privilege to help you navigate this precious time & the sometimes surprisingly difficult art of feeding your babe. For those of us who have found our passion in this work, supporting & guiding you in your journey is an honor.