Breastfeeding Counselors & Lactation Consultants
by Phyllis Young RN, ICCE, IBCLC
Many people are familiar with breastfeeding counselors who provide education, support and encouragement to mothers who are planning to breastfeed their babies. Breastfeeding counselors often have personal experience to draw upon and have taken a training course of some kind. They may hold support group meetings such as La Leche League or Nursing Mothers. Most breastfeeding counselors volunteer their services. The majority of mothers will find this to be the right type of support for them. Many breastfeeding counselors will refer some of the more challenging breastfeeding situations to a lactation consultant.
A certified lactation consultant (LC) is defined by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, Inc. (IBCLE) as an allied healthcare professional who makes a specialty of learning about the physiological process of lactation and the breastfeeding behaviors of both mother and baby. This board was established to assist in the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the public and to establish and enforce certification qualifications. Individuals who have attained the qualifications established by the IBCLE hold the credential of International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). This board held its first certifying examination in 1985. Since the field of lactation consulting is a fairly new profession the IBCLE is currently the only certifying agency in the world. Now that the American Academy of Pediatrics has released the guideline that ideally all children should be breastfed for at least the first year of life, the need for expertise in this field is growing.
Healthcare providers continue to recognize LCs as experts in breastfeeding management for both the usual and the unusual situations. LCs work in many different settings, such as private practice, hospitals, physician’s offices, health or home care agencies, etc., and come from many different backgrounds, such as nurse, nurse practitioner, doctor, childbirth educator, dietitian, etc. Most combine work as an LC with other work, such as nursing, childbirth education or teaching. Some lactation consultants provide community education programs highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding for the family and for the community as a whole.
The LC is generally a paid professional. The LC can meet with a pregnant woman to provide information about breastfeeding and to address specific questions an individual might have. Once the baby is born, the LC can assess the mother and baby, observe a breastfeeding session, take a history, write a care plan, report to the mother’s and or baby’s primary care provider and arrange for any needed follow-up.
Breastfeeding counselors will often refer a mother to a LC for situations such as: baby not latching on or has nipple confusion, slow weight gain of baby, persistent sore nipples, relactation after weaning for any reason, breastfeeding during and/or after breast surgery, breastfeeding a baby with health problems or anomalies, breastfeeding a premature baby, and providing information on the compatibility of drugs with breastfeeding to name a few. LCs may refer a mother back to a breastfeeding counselor when the crisis has resolved.
Expectant parents should keep in mind that there are many levels of breastfeeding experience in what is commonly called the field of lactation consulting. If you are looking for a certified lactation consultant you should ask if the person has been certified by IBCLE. Keeping this overview of available services in mind and asking for the credentials of the person who is providing the breastfeeding information will help you choose the proper support for you.
Editorial provided by Phyllis Young RN, ICCE, IBCLC, Coordinator of Birth and Family Education at Grand View Hospital, Sellersville, Pennsylvania.