Are you breastfeeding? Or interested? Then you’ve probably heard about lactation consultants. So what do lactation consultants do for families? They can assess how a baby is feeding at the breast and assist with positioning and attachment. They can address common challenges such as breast and nipple pain, milk supply, infant weight gain, engorgement, plugged ducts…Basically, just about anything as it relates to lactation! Things a lactation consultant can’t do unless they are also doctors (most of us aren’t): diagnose illnesses and conditions, prescribe medications, perform medical procedures.
If you deliver in a hospital, it’s likely that you’ll see one before discharge. Or you may be making an appointment in the outpatient clinic or the WIC office. Perhaps you’re considering scheduling a home visit with an LC in private practice.
Depending on the setting, you may have a few minutes of your LC’s time or a couple of hours. Here are some tips for making the most out of your session, however long or short it may be.
- State your breastfeeding goals. Are you looking to breastfeed exclusively, introduce bottles, go back to work? Every breastfeeding journey is unique, and it’s helpful to communicate with your LC about your specific wishes and plans. Feeling unsure? Be up front about that as well. Your LC may be able to help you sort out your confusion and get some clarity.
- Share your medical history. Anything related to your hormones, reproductive system, and breasts is particularly important for an LC to know. This includes (but is not limited to): use of hormonal birth control, breast surgery of any type, polycystic ovary syndrome, fertility issues, diabetes, and thyroid disorders. Disclose any medications that you are currently taking as well as anything you took while pregnant. Health issues and medications have the possibility of impacting milk supply.
- Prioritize your concerns. It’s rare for an LC to encounter a family with just one issue! Usually, multiple factors contribute to breastfeeding challenges, and it’s normal for families to feel overwhelmed. Stepping back and asking, “What do we need to address first?” can help both you and your LC focus and make your time together more productive. It’s okay if you don’t know where to start—your LC can lay out your options and help you make decisions. It may be necessary to schedule another appointment to continue working on things.
- Ask for an exam of your baby’s mouth. This is particularly important for anyone experiencing nipple pain or damage, low milk supply, and infant weight concerns. Some LCs do the exam by putting a gloved finger in baby’s mouth to assess the suck and oral structures. Others do a visual exam.
- Communicate with your other health care providers about your LC visit. Your baby’s pediatrician, your midwife or OB, and any other relevant providers should be kept in the loop about the lactation care that you’re receiving. Some LCs initiate contact with a family’s care providers and some don’t, so ask your LC what she does. Open communication is important for everyone involved, particularly if a family is hearing different or conflicting recommendations.
Stay in touch! Most breastfeeding difficulties take time to resolve. LCs know this, and most are glad to follow up by email or phone to answer questions and give a quick pep talk. If something isn’t working, we want to know about that, too. There are many paths leading to a satisfying breastfeeding relationship, and it’s common to reroute as babies grow and change.
A parting thought: as with all health care providers, not everyone is going to be a good fit. If you find that you and your LC don’t click, feel free to go back to our directory to find another name! You and your family deserve to have good experiences and skilled, compassionate care.
Sarah Quigley is an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) in San Francisco. Check out her website http://www.sarahquigley.com/