Lactation Consultant 101
Hesitating to call a lactation consultant? I know I did when I had my babies. I thought the breastfeeding instinct would just come to both me and baby naturally. It did not. Thankfully, I was able to get virtual help from my doula who was trained to correct minor malpositions and latch habits during a video call.
However, many breastfeeding moms need more hands-on help and that’s where a lactation consultant comes in. They help mothers properly feed their babies so they can achieve optimal weight gain and so mommies can enjoy the process pain-free.
What Is A Lactation Consultant?
A lactation consultant is a trained specialist who teaches mothers how to breastfeed their babies. They help mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding, low milk production and whose babies are not gaining enough weight.
They are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and have the letters IBCLC after their name. You can find an IBCLC near you using the online directory.
Certified lactation consultants have 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in a hospital, birth center, community clinic and so on. They have an academic background in health sciences, 90 hours of lactation specific education and adhere to a code of conduct.
When You Need An LC
How do you know if you need one? The slightest twinge of pain or discomfort before, during, after and between nurse sessions is a sure sign that you could benefit from the help of a lactation consultant according to Sandra Yates, an LC in Vancouver. If you are worried that your baby isn’t drinking enough or that you aren’t producing enough, then call an LC. If you don’t know how to use your breast pump, call an LC.
A lactation consultant’s goal is to help you and baby enjoy breastfeeding because there are so many benefits to it. Breastfeeding establishes a bond between you and baby by releasing oxytocin, the love hormone. It floods baby’s gut with good bacteria which aid in digestion and build his immune system. It also gives your baby antibodies to fight germs and is pumped with the perfect proportion of fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals. It has even been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. Breastfeeding helps your uterus shrink back to its original size and burns calories. It makes you the ultimate multi-tasker: Nourish your baby and burn the calories!
When you are able to enjoy breastfeeding and not dread it, you and your child can get the most out of this act of love. After all, it is giving your all yet again to your baby.
Problems a Lactation Consulant Can Fix
An IBCLC can diagnose and correct several symptoms that impede breastfeeding. These symptoms can be related to the breast or the anatomy of baby’s mouth. She can also coach you to correct technique and positioning.
Here is a list of just some of the problems you may be experiencing that a lactation consultant can help you correct:
Clogged Ducts--A small, hard lump that's sore to the touch or a very tender spot in your breast. There may be redness. a hot sensation or swelling.
The Fix: An LC will apply a warm compress to your affected breast as well as massage your breast while you nurse, pump or hand express. The duct might not clear immediately; it usually takes 2 or 3 sessions at least. She will give you tips on how to efficiently drain your breast after each session to avoid a build-up of milk which can cause a clogged or plugged duct.
Mastitis--Inflammation of the mammary gland in the breast, typically due to a bacterial infection via a damaged nipple. You may experience flu-like symptoms, a fever, tender, swollen breasts, pain or a burning sensation when not nursing.
The Fix: Mastitis can only be diagnosed by your doctor who will give you antibiotics to clear the infection. But in the meantime, your LC will help you continue to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is perfectly safe for the baby during this time and will help alleviate some of the discomfort, pressure and pain you may be feeling. A lactation consultant will give you plenty of emotional support to get through this time.
Thrush--A yeast infection that can leave a white film on your baby’s tongue, roof of the mouth and inside of the lips and/or cheeks. You may experience sore nipples, pink and shiny skin around the nipples and/or a sudden, sharp, stabbing pain upon latching.
The Fix: A lactation consultant can easily spot it. If so, she will advise you to get an antifungal prescription from your doctor or pediatrician. She may also suggest taking a high-quality probiotic to balance your body’s good bacteria and put the yeast in check.
Chapped, blistered nipples--Lacerations on the nipple caused by an improper latch. These should be treated immediately to prevent an infection.
The Fix: Your lactation consultant’s job is to teach you how to prevent chapped nipples from occurring anymore and to treat them. She will coach you through different positions to get the right latch. She will aim your nipple so that it points to the back of baby’s mouth and help get a lot of your nipple and areola into baby’s mouth. Once a proper position and technique is established, she can apply or suggest you apply a baby-safe nipple cream, get breast shells for you (these keep your bra from touching your nipple), apply an ice pack to your nipple and teach you to express a little milk onto your nipples and let air dry after nursing.
Ties (Tongue, Lip and/or Cheek)--Anatomical features of your baby’s mouth that may prevent him from achieving a good latch.
A tongue tie, ankyloglossia, is when the lingual frenulum attaches to the tip of the tongue and is too short, thick and tight. This anchors the tongue down and keeps baby from sticking it out or lifting it up, which directly interferes with breastfeeding.
A lip tie is a thick and stiff piece of tissue behind your upper lip. This prevents the upper lip from flanging properly over the areola which negatively impacts the flow of milk and could be the cause for low weight gain.
A cheek or buccal tie is an unusually tight and thick tissue between the cheek and gums that restricts the cheeks from being used for feeding.
The Fix: An IBCLC is trained to spot ties immediately. If they find one, they will refer you to your doctor who can snip or laser the ties. You will have to do stretches in your baby’s mouth to keep the ties from possibly growing back and speed the healing process.
Where Do I Find One?
Accredited lactation consultants can be found in the click of a button. Visit the International Lactation Consultant Association ICLA directory to find one near you. Enter your street address, city or zip code and you’ll see licensed lactation consultants in your area.
You can also attend a meeting at your local La Leche League, a group of mothers who have personally breastfed their own babies and are trained to provide breastfeeding help.
If you’re midwife, doula or other birth worker is trained to offer breastfeeding support, you should consider calling, video calling or using a video messaging app like Marco Polo to show them the problem you face and communicate out loud rather than in writing.
You might not look forward to breastfeeding now, but with the professional guidance and care of a lactation consultant, you can enjoy breastfeeding and the sacred relationship it builds between you and baby.