What Does a Lactation Consultant Do?
Breastfeeding offers a range of benefits for you and your baby. For many new moms, breastfeeding comes very naturally. For others, it takes time and patience, and a special kind of nurse on the care team can support new moms on this journey. Board-certified lactation consultants are professional breastfeeding specialists trained to teach mothers how to feed their baby.
“Learning any skill takes time and patience, and the more time you spend breastfeeding, the better you will be,” says Nancy White, BSN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital Prentice Women’s Hospital. “But, learning to breastfeed can be a very emotional time so the encouragement we provide is just as important as the clinical information.”
Lactation consultants can also provide vital support for women who hope to breastfeed exclusively, but may have to stop due to low milk production. New moms should always be supported and encouraged to give their infant any amount of breast milk, as infants benefit from partial breast milk feeds, whether it be from the breast or a bottle.
After you deliver your baby, a lactation consultant is available for a one-on-one visit during your hospital stay. This is a valuable time to ask questions about breast soreness, pumping, latching, feeding schedules, low milk production and anything else weighing on your mind. A lactation consultant is someone to talk to about your fears and frustrations, too.
“Many new moms experience a feeling of inadequacy. They’re learning to breastfeed as they’re forming their identity as a mother – it’s a vulnerable time,” explains Kathleen Mahan, RN, IBCLC, lactation consultant at Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital. “I’m here to build up that mom with words, hold her hand and walk the walk with her.”
Once you are settled at home, you may have additional questions, so many lactation consultants offer phone consults and outpatient visits. And their help extends into the NICU, emergency room, surgical units and other areas of hospital where moms may return with other medical conditions.
“I tell my patients ‘I’ll stand by you until we get you where you can be successful.’ We empower women to do what they were meant to do – feed their baby,” says Kathy Herbers, RN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Central DuPage Hospital.
The role of a lactation consultant extends beyond the mother-baby unit. Many lactation consultants are board-certified, registered nurses, who hone their clinical skills through ongoing continuing education. Attending conferences is another important way to keep up on the latest research and what’s new in the world of breastfeeding.
It takes a special kind of talent to be a lactation consultant, especially when no two days on the job are ever the same.
“This is a very rewarding job, and we get very close with our patients. I’ve received Christmas cards from families, and I’ve been known to make follow-up calls to check-in on moms during my days off. Knowing that I’ve helped empower a new mom with breastfeeding makes it all worth it,” says Mahan.