A lactation consultant is a professional who has specialized training in helping breastfeeding women and their babies. Lactation consultants can provide breastfeeding education as well as help if problems arise. Lactation consultants are often nurses, but this is not a requirement. Other health professionals such as physicians, nutritionists, and speech therapists may also seek this training and provide this service.
It is important to realize there are various titles for breastfeeding specialists out there, but a “lactation consultant” is a formal title. For example, someone may call themselves a breastfeeding educator, a certified lactation counselor, or a breastfeeding specialist. These titles are not centrally regulated and so the amount of training each person has may vary.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC, is the only board-certified credential that exists (you can read more about what that certification means here.) In short, it is best to seek care from an IBCLC as you can be certain they have adequate training and have passed a rigorous exam and are well-suited to help you and your baby.
Many women wonder if they should wait to see an IBCLC until a problem occurs, such as a painful latch or a perceived low milk supply. While this may be fine, it can definitely be helpful to make a connection with one during your pregnancy so that if something does come up, you already know who to contact. You can also find out ahead of time who is covered under your insurance so that you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.
Many IBCLC’s offer prenatal breastfeeding consultations or classes. This can be invaluable as they help you prepare for breastfeeding, and it is a nice way to “interview” a potential IBCLC for when you deliver. You may also want to ask your hospital where you are delivering or a potential IBCLC the following questions:
- “Is there an IBCLC on staff at the hospital who will see me after I deliver, even if I’m not having problems?”
- “Do you offer outpatient postpartum appointments if I need one?”
- “Are home visits available?”
- “If I need a pump or supplies, can I buy or rent them directly from the IBCLC or hospital?”
- “If any issues arise, can you help me communicate with my pediatrician to ensure we are all on the same page?”
If you are planning to breastfeed, rest reassured that involving a lactation consultant has been shown to increase success with breastfeeding initiation and duration. You can search here to find an IBCLC near you.
Reviewed by Sara Connolly, March 2020
- A lactation consultant has specialist training in providing breastfeeding education and troubleshooting.
- Various breastfeeding specialist titles exist, and the only one that is centrally credentialed and regulated is that of an IBCLC.
- Meeting with an IBCLC before you deliver can be helpful.