Perhaps you’re lining up breastfeeding support before your baby is born. That way, you’ll know where to turn if any problems crop up. Maybe your baby is already born and you need some help. A number of options are available – how do you know who to choose? Depending on what type of problem you’re having, different levels of support are available.
The most informal network for information about breastfeeding is asking family and friends. If you know someone who was successful nursing their baby, don’t be afraid to ask them questions. What we know from the research is that the first people a woman will turn to when breastfeeding problems arise are her partner and her own mom. Educating these members of the team about the importance of breastfeeding before the baby is even born is a perfect way to start creating your support network. While it is nice to have the support of someone you know, misinformation and myths about breastfeeding persist in our culture. So take their advice with a little caution.
Another option for support is a La Leche League (LLL) Leader, Breastfeeding USA counselor, or other trained breastfeeding peer counselor. If you qualify for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), your local office may have a peer counselor who can help. These are women who have breastfed their own children, as well as having additional training in lactation management and counseling nursing moms. They can answer basic breastfeeding questions, as well as provide information and support to help you make the best decisions for your family. Often these breastfeeding counselors hold local meetings.
If your question or problem is beyond what your breastfeeding helpers can manage, you may need to find a lactation consultant. Anyone can call themselves a lactation consultant, but the education and training vary depending on the credential.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) has specialized training in clinical lactation support. An IBCLC might be a physician, midwife, dietician, nurse, or experienced breastfeeding counselor. In order to qualify for the board certification exam, candidates must have specific educational training as well as many hours of clinical training specific to lactation.
An IBCLC will work with a mother one-on-one to observe baby at the breast, help solve specific problems, and counsel families on how to prevent future problems. An IBCLC will collaborate with a mother’s and baby’s healthcare providers to ensure comprehensive care. An IBCLC can be especially helpful with complex problems such as slow weight gain, low milk supply, pain while breastfeeding, nipple or breast problems, medical-related issues, medications, and more. You may have access to an IBCLC at the hospital where you deliver, or you may find one in private practice in your community. Occasionally, a physician’s office will employ an IBCLC.
Sometimes you will find a lactation consultant with different credentials by her name. This helper may be a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), Certified Breastfeeding Specialist (CBS), Certified Lactation Educator (CLE), Certified Breastfeeding Educator (CBE), Certified Lactation Educator Counselor (CLEC), and more. While these consultants have completed some classroom hours in breastfeeding support and management, they amount of education, the prerequisites for the course, and they number of clinical hours necessary will vary.
What about your pediatrician or obstetrician? It’s important to note that most doctors don’t have much training in lactation support – even when they care for newborns or delivering moms. While some do employ lactation consultants or refer to them as needed, not all doctors do. The American Academy of Pediatrics has created a handout to help you determine if your doctor has a breastfeeding friendly practice.