01.19.22 5 min read

What is a Lactation Consultant and Why Do I Need One?

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Lauren had her first baby just over a week ago. At first, breastfeeding was a breeze, but now she is more exhausted than she ever knew she could be. Her baby girl is cluster feeding what seems like every hour at night. Lauren hasn’t slept more than a few hours at night in three days. 

Her nipples are sore, cracked, and blistered. She cried out in pain the last time she nursed her baby. She’s read online that her nipple pain is probably because the baby isn’t latching well, and she’s tried her best to follow how to get a good latch from videos online. She is ready to quit breastfeeding, but her friend recommended she try a Lactation Consultant (LC). 

During her video visit, with a Lactation Consultant, the LC gave her some reassurance that nipple cracking and pain is temporary and can almost always be completely resolved. She suggested some different creams and soothing gel pads that gave Lauren some relief. She also helped Lauren figure out if a nipple shield would help her temporarily. Lauren was shocked that from a few small changes, feeding was less painful. By the time the video visit ended, they created a plan for feeding the baby the next few days that left Lauren feeling empowered and no longer ready to give up on breastfeeding.

Lauren’s story is not unique. Many people struggle with breastfeeding in the first few weeks home with an infant. It’s normal and common for breastfeeding to be difficult at first, but getting help from a Lactation Consultant has been shown to help breastfeeding people reach their breastfeeding goals. Let’s take a look at how a Lactation Consultant can help and what to expect from a visit. 

Lactation Consultants are breastfeeding experts 

A Lactation Consultant is a healthcare professional who is trained in helping with all things related to breastfeeding. When people talk about lactation consultants they are typically referring to international board-certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs) and the terms lactation consultant, LC, and IBCLC are often used to mean the same thing. It is important to know that IBCLCs have completed hundreds of hours of hands-on experience and at least 90 hours of training and additional health science coursework. Once they meet those requirements, they take an exam to get their certification. 

Lactation Consultants provide assistance to breastfeeding people to achieve their goals. They work in hospitals providing support to families in the days immediately following birth and in the community helping them after birth. 

Although the production of breastmilk and feeding your baby are natural processes after birth, it does not mean they are always easy or that they come naturally to both the parent and baby.  Getting expert help with breastfeeding can help improve your overall experience feeding your baby, and ensure you breastfeed for as long as you want to.

Why should I see a Lactation Consultant? 

Many parents expect that their doctors will be able to help them with breastfeeding questions or problems after the baby is born. Unfortunately doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers usually don’t receive much in-depth training about breastfeeding (1). Although your pediatrician, obstetrician, or midwife can help with some breastfeeding concerns, they likely did not receive comprehensive education related to breastfeeding from their graduate education (2). 

Even if your obstetrician, pediatrician, or midwife has had specialized training in breastfeeding, many breastfeeding challenges require someone to observe and assist with a feeding which takes more time than most providers have in a regular visit (2). On average, a visit with a Lactation Consultant is around an hour long — it’s unusual to receive this type of support from your typical healthcare provider. 

When to see a Lactation Consultant

There is no wrong time to get breastfeeding help from a Lactation Consultant. In fact, the earlier you get help during your breastfeeding journey, the better. Some of the most common reasons people see a lactation consultant are:

  • Pain with breastfeeding or sore nipples
  • Difficulties latching baby to the breast
  • Problems with milk supply or production
  • Baby isn’t gaining weight as expected or desired
  • Support for returning to work and pumping
  • Other breast concerns or infections like mastitis

Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurance plans cover lactation visits with no copay as a preventative visit. Unfortunately, most breastfeeding people don’t know this is a benefit, or may not have a Lactation Consultant in their area that is in-network with their insurance provider. 

What happens during a Lactation Consultant visit? 

It’s not uncommon for new nursing parents to feel a little self-conscious about the breastfeeding process. If you feel shy or embarrassed about breastfeeding, it’s important to prepare yourself for your first Lactation Consultant visit. You can expect that a Lactation Consultant will want to closely watch you breastfeed (or pump). They will give you “hands on” help, which means touching your breasts and your baby during the visit if it is an in-person visit, or guiding your partner to touch your breasts if it’s a video visit. They will help with positioning the baby and your breast and help you get the baby to latch. They will be able to answer your questions and give you tips and tricks.

Although lactation services have been traditionally provided face-to-face, studies have shown that people who receive support from a Lactation Consultant breastfeed longer than those who don’t (3) and this seems to be true with video visits, too (4). 

Here’s what to expect if you receive support during a video or in-person visit. 

A video visit allows the Lactation Consultant to get insight into how breastfeeding is going for you and your baby.

What the LC will do during a video visit: 

  • They can assess a baby’s positioning and latch during a feeding. 
  • They can also demonstrate tips and tricks for how to hold a baby to get a good position and latch. 
  • They can guide you in weighing your baby before and after a feed (if you have a scale that is adequate) to get an idea of how much the baby eats during a feeding. 
  • Help with setting up or using your breast pump, including making sure your pump parts are the right size for you

An in-person visit allows the Lactation Consultant to get insight into how breastfeeding is going for you and your baby and provide you with hands-on assistance.

What the LC will do during an in-person visit: 

  • Weigh baby before and after a feed to know how much milk baby drinks during a feeding
  • Help you with positioning baby at the breast and getting a good latch
  • Better assessment of your breasts and baby’s latch or mouth that include a hands-on approach
  • Help with setting up or using a breast pump

Looking for care? Book online with in-network specialists including acupuncturists, lactation consultants, nutritionists, physical therapists, mental health therapists, and more.

References:

  1. Wambach K, Campbell SH, Gill SL, Dodgson JE, Abiona TC, Heinig MJ. Clinical lactation practice: 20 years of evidence. Journal of Human Lactation. 2005 Aug;21(3):245-58.
  2. Mass SB. Educating the obstetrician about breastfeeding. Clinical obstetrics and gynecology. 2015 Dec 1;58(4):936-43.
  3. Thurman SE, Jackson Allen P. Integrating lactation consultants into primary health care services: are lactation consultants affecting breastfeeding success?. Pediatric nursing. 2008 Sep 1;34(5).
  4. Marcucci B. Use of Telehealth to Increase Breastfeeding Exclusivity and Duration. Clinical Lactation. 2018 May 1;9(2):66-71.