What to Expect From a Lactation Consultant

Breastfeeding mother with a lactation consultant

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Especially if you've never done it before, breastfeeding can be difficult and asking for help can feel daunting. Lactation consultants can offer peace of mind during a potentially stressful time by answering questions, giving advice, and helping to troubleshoot breastfeeding problems.

Even if you're a seasoned pro, sometimes having a lactation consultant weigh in if feeding issues come up can be helpful. Finding a lactation consultant who meets your needs can help ensure that you and your baby can have the best possible breastfeeding outcome.

What a Lactation Consultant Does

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby's life, followed by continued breastfeeding along with the introduction of complementary foods until the baby is at least a year old. Lactation consultants can help you find the way to breastfeed that works best for both you and your baby to increase your chances of success.

One study reported that in the United States, 60% of people who breastfeed stop earlier than they intend to. Lactation consultants are trained professionals who help new parents and their babies overcome breastfeeding challenges.

A lactation consultant can address issues like:

Because breastfeeding comes with plenty of ups and downs while both mom and baby are learning, a lactation consultant can also serve as an important source of emotional support for new parents who may be struggling.

When to See a Lactation Consultant

People see lactation consultants at different points throughout pregnancy, after delivery, and throughout their baby's time breastfeeding. The number of times you see a lactation consultant will vary based on your individual needs, but studies show that meeting with one can have a positive impact on breastfeeding duration.

Before Giving Birth

Prenatal breastfeeding classes led by lactation consultants are recommended for those who wish to breastfeed in order to help build confidence and gain knowledge about what to expect after birth. Things like how to tell when your baby is hungry and wants to breastfeed are covered in detail during the class.

A prenatal breastfeeding class should go over:

In the Hospital

You may or may not see a lactation consultant while you're in the hospital. It depends on your situation and the particular hospital. Some hospitals have large lactation staffs, while others do not have any at all.

Some people are automatically seen daily by a consultant during their stay, while others have to request a visit if they're having difficulty. If lactation visits are not part of the daily routine of your hospital, your nurse can request one for you.

You also have the option to hire a private lactation consultant to come visit with you during your hospital stay. If your hospital does not have a lactation staff and you are not in a position to hire one, labor and delivery nurses can be helpful in assisting with the early days of breastfeeding.

When Issues Arise

After leaving the hospital, people sometimes seek the help of a lactation consultant to ensure that they are on the right track while breastfeeding. A lactation consultant can determine if any adjustments are needed and help address any concerns you have about how breastfeeding is going.

Even if you saw a lactation consultant in the hospital, problems that weren't there at the beginning may suddenly appear at any time during breastfeeding. It's important to have support when questions or breastfeeding issues come up, and a lactation consultant is an ideal person to call in these cases.

You should not hesitate to contact your lactation consultant. If you have problems that do not go away or don't get better, it's important to reach out to them so that your issues can be addressed promptly. The sooner you can treat and resolve breastfeeding issues, the better it will be for you and your baby.

What Happens During a Lactation Consultation

During your initial meeting, a lactation consultant will ask for information about you and your baby's health, as well as your pregnancy and delivery. They will want to know your baby's birth weight, any changes in weight since then, and your family health history.

They will want to know how the baby has been breastfeeding, how many wet diapers your baby is having each day, information about your baby's bowel movements, and any specific concerns that you have.

Clinically, the lactation consultant will:

  • Observe your baby's appearance and behavior
  • Examine your breasts and nipples
  • Watch your baby as they're breastfeeding and adjust your breastfeeding position if need be
  • Check whether or not the baby is latching on, sucking, swallowing, and breathing properly
  • Correct any breastfeeding problems that are present
  • Give you written instructions or protocols to follow
  • Explain how to get in touch with them for additional help or questions
  • Give you information about local breastfeeding support groups.

Whether the visit is in a hospital, clinic, office, or private home, it is important that you feel comfortable with the visit. As a patient or client, you have rights just as you do when visiting a doctor. The lactation consultant should:

  • Consult with you in private
  • Give you a positive feeling about the situation
  • Be empathetic
  • Tell you exactly what she is doing with every part of the examination

How to Choose a Lactation Consultant

Breastfeeding is a very personal experience, so it's important that your lactation consultant is someone that you're comfortable with. If you're looking for a consultant outside of a hospital setting, you may choose to interview several consultants before deciding who is the best fit for your needs.

Although not required by most states, many professional lactation consultants do obtain International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or Certified Lactation Consultant (CLC) credentials. Because these certifications require specific training requirements to be be met, finding a lactation consultant with IBCLC or CLC credentials can help ensure that you receive a high-quality standard of care.

You can find reviews online, but asking for recommendations from other parents, your doctor, or hospital can also be helpful. An initial phone call and appointment with your consultant should also help you get to know one another.

A Word From Verywell

Even with the help of a lactation consultant, breastfeeding just isn't in the cards for some people. Having the support of a lactation consultant can help give you the best shot at success, regardless of what that ends up meaning for you and your baby. Ultimately, even if you have to turn to formula, a fed baby and a happy parent is best for everyone involved.

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Article Sources
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  2. Odom EC, Li R, Scanlon KS, Perrine CG, Grummer-Strawn L. Reasons for earlier than desired cessation of breastfeeding. Pediatrics. 2013;131(3):e726-732. doi:10.1542/peds.2012-1295

  3. Witt AM, Smith S, Mason MJ, Flocke SA. Integrating routine lactation consultant support into a pediatric practice. Breastfeed Med. 2012;7(1):38-42. doi:10.1089/bfm.2011.0003

  4. Gianni ML, Bettinelli ME, Manfra P, et al. Breastfeeding difficulties and risk for early breastfeeding cessation. Nutrients. 2019;11(10). doi:10.3390/nu11102266