Why are Lactation Consultants necessary?
I was the first out of my friends to have children. I delved into the lactation world about 6 months after having my second child. When I explained to my friends (who didn’t have children yet) what I would be doing as an IBCLC, I heard comments such as, “Oh, I didn’t know that lactation consultants were necessary. Doesn’t it just happen? The baby just latches on, right? Women really need help with that?”
We were both coming from very different worlds and experiences at that point in our lives but once they too began to have children…the text and phone calls flooded in, even if women don’t need physical help with breastfeeding, the reassurance and support they receive can make or break their breastfeeding journey. Inevitably, at some point along every lactating person's journey, questions arise.
“Breastfeeding is natural”, you have probably heard this statement before. I cringe every time I hear it. Yes, breast milk is natural. It is the biological norm for infants to want to breastfeed. But no, the act of breastfeeding - physically latching the infant - is not, in every case, a natural process.
I describe it has having a new partner. You haven’t yet learned their likes and dislikes, hunger cues, comfortable positions, their temperament, their feeding style or preferences. At times you may misinterpret a cue or cry and not know what your baby wants. All of these things are normal and it takes time, patience and practice to build a sustainable breastfeeding relationship. Give yourself the time you need, don’t compare yourself to others, every person’s journey is there own and needs to be respected. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t be doing, do what works for you and your family.
I wish with my first child I had known about resources that were available in my community. I would have loved a knowledgeable, experienced person to reassure me things were normal, that everything is happening the way it should, or just to give me tips to help me along the way. I understand after that experience, how necessary lactation counselors and consultants are to mothers for them to reach their personal breastfeeding goals.
If I could give advice to myself back then, I would say, "don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to admit that something isn’t going right and you may need some interventions to get back on track."
As an IBCLC, I discuss with my clients what their personal goals are and together we develop a plan of care that works for them and their family. I provide reassurance and support specific to their situation and deliver evidenced based education as needed. I provide my clients with all the information they need to make an informed decision about how to feed their infant. YOU are the expert on your baby.
Now that I have the IBCLC certification and have been working as a Lactation Consultant in the years before having my third child, I am always asked one question, “Breastfeeding must be so easy for you because you are a Lactation Consultant, right?” My answer is always “Yes and no, and not for the reasons you may think.”
It doesn’t matter how much experience the mother may have, a new breastfeeding infant is still new to everything including how to breastfeed. Having a new partner means different challenges, different cues, different temperament and feeding patterns. It still took me time to figure out my third child and figure out his likes and dislikes. He also had a posterior tongue tie that I had revised at 14 months which was an obstacle I did not experience with my other two children. The part that did make it easy was the knowledge and tools I had from breastfeeding two other children and the information, support and reassurance I was given by various lactation professionals in my life, you all know who you are! The support and knowledge made the experience easier to cope with, easier to navigate and made the problems easier to solve but it didn’t mean that the experience was without any issues. I just had the tools, resources and knowledge to overcome those obstacles.
I’ve seen and heard other women’s stories about how empowered they felt in making decisions regarding infant feeding when they had a supportive person/group to lean on and how their experiences were exponentially different when they had the knowledge, patience and power to navigate their experience. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you are inadequate or doing something wrong. It means that this is a new experience which requires new tools and strategies. We would never start a new job without getting to know the company and having an orientation period, why would we expect any less for one of the most important jobs we will ever do, raising and feeding our children.
So when we ask, “Why is a Lactation Consultant necessary?”, an IBCLC isn’t just necessary, they are essential to breastfeeding success and improving community conditions for mothers and infants. IBCLC’s positively affect not just the health of the community they live in but also the health of their global community. I wish I had known about all these resources when I had my first child and I always urge mothers to prepare, not just for delivery, but also the post-partum period as well. Mothers who have taken breastfeeding classes prior to delivery or met with a Lactation Consultant have expressed feeling more at ease with breastfeeding, feeling calmer, more patient and had a better idea of what to expect. Sometimes just knowing what is normal versus abnormal can grant you peace of mind. Knowing when and who to reach out to for lactation support can make a huge impact on your journey.