You’ve decided that you are going to breastfeed the baby you are expecting. You know that breast milk is the best food for a baby and that breastfeeding has many advantages for both you and your child. Everyone from your best friend to your obstetrician is patting you on the back for making this choice.
And breastfeeding is natural and easy, isn’t it? Just put your nipple in the kid’s mouth and everything will go tickety boo, right?
Yes, breastfeeding is natural. Many women and babies have no problems breastfeeding from the first hour after birth to the last day of weaning. But there is more to it than just putting your baby to your breast. There is a learning curve for both you and your baby. You’ll need to learn things like when to feed your baby and how often, as well as how to judge how much milk your baby is taking in. After all, your breasts don’t have ounces marked on the sides.
You could also experience problems with breastfeeding, such painful nursing, problems with your baby latching on to your breast, or low milk production. Maybe you have a set of twins you need to feed or you’ve had breast surgery of any kind (see this Pregistry blog post). Even if you breastfed your other children with no problems, this child might be the one who has you tearing your hair out.
So who are you going to call? You call a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant is an allied health professional who specializes in teaching mothers how to feed their babies. Certified lactation consultants have the letters IBCLC after their names, which stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Some lactation consultants are also nurses and there are a few people with both an MD and an IBCLC after their names.
What a Lactation Consultant Can Do for You
A lactation consultant can help you if you have any problems that come up when you are breastfeeding. Some lactation consultants work out of doctors’ offices or medical clinics, while others work at hospitals. There are lactation consultants in private practice, as well. Many lactation consultants give classes about breastfeeding for expectant parents at hospitals or clinics.
If you or your child is having a problem with breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can often figure out what is causing the problem and what to do about it. For example, if your nipples are extremely sore, the consultant might see that your baby is not latching on properly and offer ways to help.
Lactation consultants can also offer advice on how to transition from breastfeeding at home during a maternity leave to being back in the office and having to use a breast pump.
Generally, you might want to speak with a lactation consultant before your baby’s birth if you had any difficulty breastfeeding with your older child, if you are expecting more than one baby, or if you have any health issues that you think may interfere with breastfeeding. Otherwise, you can meet with a consultant after your baby’s birth if a problem with breastfeeding crops up.
How to Find a Lactation Consultant
You can find a lactation consultant by asking your doctor or midwife for a recommendation. You can also check the International Lactation Consultant Association for local consultants.
Under the Affordable Care Act, your health insurance should cover the cost of a consultation without a co-payment, but check with your insurance plan.