If you are breastfeeding for the first time or experiencing issues with nursing, it can be confusing to know who to turn to for help when you need it. Here’s a guide to the different types of lactation specialists.
- Your obstetric or pediatric provider—Many women first turn to their obstetrician or pediatrician when a breastfeeding issue arises. It is important to keep in mind that most physicians receive limited breastfeeding education, so be sure to ask if your provider has had adequate training and experience when it comes to lactation management. If something doesn’t sound right or you want more information, feel free to request a referral to a lactation consultant.
- Certified lactation counselor/educator/specialist—There are a host of these kinds of titles in the breastfeeding community. These specialists may be self-employed or they may work for a doctor or hospital and are usually able to deal with most basic breastfeeding issues. It is important to remember that these designations are not centrally regulated, and the amount of breastfeeding-specific education this person may have received can vary from only eight hours to upward of forty-five. This is not to say they aren’t excellent resources! But if you feel you need another opinion or have a complicated problem, you may need more specialized care.
- International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)—An IBCLC is the only standardized, board-certified lactation credential that exists. There are different pathways to become an IBCLC, but they all include at least ninety hours of breastfeeding-specific education and 300-1,000 hours of direct clinical breastfeeding care. They are certified to deal with the most complex of breastfeeding cases and adhere to a strict Code of Ethics. IBCLCs may work in private practice or be employed in a doctor’s office or hospital. You can go here to locate an IBCLC near you.
- Peer help—Not all breastfeeding assistance needs to come from a medical specialist. For many new moms, just hearing the stories and advice of other women who’ve been in their shoes can be priceless. This may come in the form of attending a La Leche League meeting or other local breastfeeding support group. La Leche League meetings are run by a leader who has personal breastfeeding experience and is trained in giving breastfeeding guidance. You can locate a group near you here. The federal WIC program also offers breastfeeding support and education in the form of peer counselors, who are past and current nursing mothers. Lastly, online groups can also provide virtual support, especially when you are awake during a midnight feeding session!
- Be mindful that many physicians don’t have extensive breastfeeding training.
- IBCLCs are the only board-certified lactation specialists.
- Help from peer counselors and other moms can be invaluable.
- If a piece of advice doesn’t sound right, feel free to seek another opinion.
I had consultations with 3 different lactation specialists at the hospital where I delivered. I did not like the advice I was given by the first 2, but the last one I saw was so sweet and helpful and encouraging! Our son’s pediatrician was also instrumental in my breastfeeding success. He is a huge supporter of breastfeeding, and talked me through a lot of the issues I was having in the beginning, as a first-time mom and breastfeeder. The only person I was completely surprised about was my OB. I thought that, as a women’s health (and pregnancy!) specialist, she would have more insight about breastfeeding. In fact, I was given formula samples in the office at several visits and in the hospital! That kind of turned me off…
Kristen I am sad to hear your OB was like that but also not surprised. As a specialty we are notoriously poor when it comes to breastfeeding support (which is embarrassing considering we are poised to be the best at it!) for many reasons, but I think the biggest barrier is the lack of education (also, many think the pediatrician should ‘deal with it’ because it’s a baby-feeding issue, ugh). It is not emphasized in most residencies because there is so much to learn and I think it is seen as something an IBCLC can do, so why spend time on it? It is starting to change, but trust me I know we need to do better. As for the formula – there is NO place for that!
My lactation specialist was instrumental in helping me get my daughter diagnosed with GERD. As a new mom, I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, but I knew breastfeeding wasn’t supposed to involve my daughter screaming in pain! Her help and willingness to watch videos over email, respond to my infinite questions, and provide insights for me to share with my pediatrician were invaluable.