As breastfeeding experts, lactation consultants offer more than just advice to new moms. These superheroes present hands-on support and empower women to master the most natural bonding experience a mother and child enjoy.
The need for lactation consultants is dire in the U.S. While the CDC’s 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card shows some gains in breastfeeding, many targets are still not met. For example, while 81.1% of mothers attempt to breastfeed, this number drops to 51.8% by 6 months. At one year, only 30.7% of mothers continue to breastfeed.
While high initiation rates suggest that many mothers choose breastfeeding, sharp drop-offs suggest that mothers encounter a variety of hurdles. Issues ranging from milk supply, to latching, to returning to work, to a lack of breastfeeding-friendly environments, all play a role in decreasing percentages. The solution to these hurdles?
I sat down with Kelly Kendall, R.N., B.S.N., and IBCLC, who recently passed her IBLCE exam and works as an internationally certified lactation consultant at a local hospital. This special certification demands individuals demonstrate specialized breast feeding knowledge and submit proof of hundreds of hours of hands-on experience assisting moms with mastering breastfeeding.
Kelly shared that the average woman who delivers an uncomplicated vaginal birth is out of the hospital within two days. This allows a super small window to help moms. After birth, babies emerge quite sleepy and aren’t always interested in learning to feed. The more complicated the birth, the harder time many babies have latching correctly. Therefore, consultants can become indispensable resources once a mom returns home.
As walking encyclopedias of breastfeeding assistance, IBCLCs (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants) provide invaluable support to moms. This certification demands knowledge of everything from the molecular make-up of breastmilk to a variety of interventions with latching issues, to understanding how breastmilk contributes to a healthy gut microbiome.
Unfortunately, while many insurances now cover renting breast pumps, they often don’t cover lactation consultants. On average, consultants charge anywhere from $70-$100 an hour outside help provided in a hospital. However, this hour of one-on-one support is worthwhile. I asked Kelly how lactation consultants can help moms.
Here’s why certified consultants can become a new mom’s breast friend:
1. Removing Barriers to Successful Breastfeeding
As an IBCLC, Kelly shares that one of her main jobs is removing barriers to success. She works to negate misinformation and supply moms with the best current practices. In the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, research showed that “…many people, including health professionals, believe that because commercially prepared formula has been enhanced in recent years, infant formula is equivalent to breast milk in terms of its health benefits; however, this belief is incorrect.”
Access to support is another barrier which consultants work to eliminate. IBCLCs also help moms transition back to work and manage pumping to maintain supply.
2. Correctly Identifying Milk Supply
Understanding the difference between colostrum and milk helps moms better understand milk supply. Colostrum not only provides antibodies and all key nutrients, but works to create a healthy microbiome. Milk isn’t necessary immediately. Kelly shares that a newborn’s stomach is only the size of a cherry; therefore, a solid milk supply need only fill this amount each feeding. While many new moms worry they’re not making enough milk, this is often not the case.
3. Empowering Mothers to Trust Their Body and Their Baby
“I spend a lot of time teaching parents how to use a baby’s innate instincts to breastfeed,” Kelly shares. “The importance of skin-to-skin contact and baby-led latching should never be underestimated. You know, a mother’s body changes to help newborns breastfeed; a woman’s nipples get darker during pregnancy — like a spotlight for a baby trying to nurse. I help moms recognize how using all five senses helps their baby breastfeed.”
4. Identifying Common Problems
A certified consultant can identify tongue ties, and provide solutions for a variety of causes for sore nipples. As an IBCLC, Kelly reveals that she helps a variety of babies including those born with cleft palates, Down Syndrome, and late pre-termers overcome breastfeeding issues. Whether it’s identifying and treating clogged ducts, leaking nipples, and/or mastitis, an expert’s eye can catch an issue early and work to resolve it for the mother and child’s comfort.
5. Knowing How to Gauge Success Correctly
Kelly helps moms meet their individual breastfeeding goals. As a lactation consultant, Kelly changes her approach and advice for every mom she works with. After all, every baby is different! She helps moms create and achieve their goals based on real medical evidence — not society’s perception on what success should look like.
So why did Kelly pursue a certification as an IBCLC? “I Love it. LOVE it. I really feel like I’m tangibly helping other people. I can make a big impact in a short time. Breastfeeding existed as the most empowering, special relationship of my life. I want all women to feel empowered in their own lives. It makes me happy to think about a new generation growing up thinking breastfeeding is normal, that extended breastfeeding is normal. My son will support his wife, and his generation won’t blink an eye at breastfeeding mothers anywhere.”
So where can new moms find an internationally board certified lactation consultant? Many hospitals offer their services in-house. Additionally, more pediatrician offices are hiring consultants. However the most comprehensive resource is ILCA.org. The International Lactation Consultant Association allows women to enter their location and set a radius to search for registered consultants.
Certified lactation consultants really are a mom’s breast friend. Whether it’s helping a mom build her breastfeeding confidence, empowering her to nurse as long as she wants, or identifying an issue and providing solutions, the wisdom IBCLCs provide is invaluable. The next time a friend has a baby, skip the flowers and send a specialist instead!
Have you had a great experience with a lactation consultant? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.