Introduction to lactation consultants

Lactation consultants – well, it’s obvious that they only help you with breastfeeding, right?

An international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) – what a mouthful, let’s stick with ‘lactation consultant’ – can help you with all things feeding your baby. From breast/chest feeding, normal infant behaviour and sleep, normal oral anatomy, formula feeding and safe alternative methods of feeding. We cover all of it and I’ve never had the misfortune to meet any that are anti-formula, because formula feeding is our bread and butter. Most people we help are giving their baby some degree of formula, where we go from there, is all a part of the consultation and plan. Does the family wish to reduce the formula, stick to the same, but maintain what breast milk they are producing, or do they want to stop breastfeeding altogether? 

Yup, we help people stop breastfeeding, because what’s important to lactation consultants is that we make a holistic plan that respects the needs of both parent and child, optimising both their mental and physical health. 

No matter what a parent’s desire is for their feeding journey, the plan that they get from a lactation consultant needs to be achievable. 

Photo by João Henrique do Carmo

To give an example, I regularly hear from people wanting to build their milk supply, that they’ve been told that pumping is the only way to achieve this. But, they don’t own a pump, or they loathe the pump. Perhaps they have other children and spending hours each day pumping just isn’t achievable or desirable. 

Well this is where skilled help comes in, because pumping would only be part of a plan, and we have other tricks up our sleeve. The basics of improving the latch alone can increase milk transfer hugely, emptier breasts make more milk, compressions can also be used to boost transfer. Switch feeding – going back and forth from breast to breast can be as effective as pumping. Another method to boost transfer is delivering your baby’s formula top ups via a supplemental nursing system–a tube taped alongside the nipple, delivering a top up whilst they suckle at the breast. 

There are so many ways in which to feed your baby with the milk you choose. The end goal is to have a baby who is thriving, and parents who are informed and have made choices they feel in control of. Admittedly, people don’t always reach their feed goals. It’s not all roses, but with skilled help they can start to understand and investigate the causes. With a lactation consultant’s support, they will hopefully reach a place of acceptance and to learn to celebrate every drop of breastmilk their baby has received. 

It’s important to acknowledge that parents never fail at breastfeeding, our healthcare systems and societal norms fail families in supporting and empowering them with their breastfeeding.

So if you are pregnant and want to learn more about breastfeeding and how you want to get it off to the best start, see my Instagram page for free information or my virtual breastfeeding course found via The Wonderhood.