Why is breastfeeding so hard?
For many mothers around the world, this is the question at the forefront of their minds as they struggle to provide nourishment for their child. This struggle brings with it a host of physical, mental, and emotional woes that can be hard to work through.
As a mother, isn’t it my job to take care of my child? Why can’t my body do what it is supposed to do? Is there something inherently wrong with me as a mother?
If these are the sorts of questions you ask yourself, don’t despair. More women struggle to breastfeed than you likely realize.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 60 percent of women do not breastfeed as long as they intend to. While over 80 percent of women start off breastfeeding, barely half continue to breastfeed past the sixth-month mark with only 22 percent of women exclusively breastfeeding for that time period. (source)
What is a struggling mama to do? One of the underutilized tools to help women find success in breastfeeding is the use of lactation consultants.
Throughout this helpful guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about lactation consultants and how they can help you on your breastfeeding journey.
What is a Lactation Consultant?
A lactation consultant is a health professional who specializes in the science of breastfeeding. Their ultimate goal is to help mothers learn how to breastfeed effectively. Lactation consultants go through intensive schooling and training to become certified so they can help mamas in need.
Once certified, lactation consultants can help assess a mother’s physical, mental, and psychological states, identify and correct improper latches, teach mothers how to express breast milk by hand or with a pump, and even help mothers and babies wean from breastfeeding.
Lactation consultants can offer their services privately or be contracted to work in hospitals, birthing centers or physician’s offices.
10 Benefits of Lactation Consultants
Lactation consultants offer a wide variety of services encompassing the entire spectrum of experiences breastfeeding mothers may face. Here are just a few of the benefits of using a lactation consultant.
1. They Can Help Even Before the Birth.
Even before you give birth, you can contact a lactation consultant for training and tips. Save stress and start your breastfeeding journey with confidence by learning about breastfeeding tips and tricks to try beforehand.
This includes attending breastfeeding classes through your local hospital or community center.
It is also a great way to build a relationship with your lactation consultant before the hustle and bustle of bringing your baby home.
2. They Care About Your Personal Goals.
Every mama is different. Women often deal with religious, cultural, health, and personal preferences when considering how to best incorporate breastfeeding into their role as a mother.
Did You Know
Lactation consultants care about your personal breastfeeding goals, whatever they may be. They want to work with you to reach your goals and to make sure you have a positive, enriching breastfeeding experience.
3. They Understand Your Baby’s Anatomy.
Whoever thought such a tiny little mouth could cause so much trouble? Lactation consultants know how to evaluate your baby’s anatomy to determine if there are any physical problems preventing your baby from breastfeeding properly.
By taking a look at your baby’s mouth, your lactation consultation can also suggest specific breastfeeding techniques to suit your baby’s unique needs.
4. They Understand Your Anatomy.
As a new mom, you will experience many changes. Some you may anticipate and some may be a complete surprise! Lactation consultants understand how your body changes during breastfeeding and can find solutions to problems, including mastitis, cracked nipples, and engorged breasts.
5. They Understand Your Home and Family Life.
So many things impact your physical health. Your ability to breastfeed can be affected by your surroundings, your relationships, and more. A lactation consultant will take a look at how your home and family life may be benefiting or harming your breastfeeding chances.
This will happen without judgement. Instead, you will receive helpful tips and advice on effective changes you can make.
6. They Focus on Education and Facts.
Lactation consultants are not driven by emotional arguments to get mothers to breastfeed. They focus on the latest scientific facts on how to improve breastfeeding for both you and your baby while helping you understand the benefits of breastfeeding based on concrete information.
As long as you want to know more, lactation consultants will continue sharing their knowledge and training on whatever aspects of breastfeeding you would like to know more about, including how not to breastfeed if things aren’t working out for you.
7. They Will Help You Use a Breast Pump.
Breastfeeding is more than just the natural act between a mother and child. It can also involve supplementing feedings with breast milk expressed through a pump.
Learning to pump is especially important for breastfeeding moms who return to work and want to continue breastfeeding.
Lactation consultants will recommend the best types of breast pumps for you to use and teach you how to use them effectively. They will also work with you on understanding how to store breast milk properly.
8. They Will Work With Your Family.
While breastfeeding is definitely a special bonding experience for you and your baby, your other family members can definitely play a role. Your lactation consultant will work with your family on what they can do to support you.
This not only includes how to lighten your load, but on things they can do to help your baby, such as avoiding pacifiers and how to help wake up a sleepy baby for feedings.
9. They Can Help With Postpartum Depression.
One natural effect of giving birth for many women is the arrival of various mood disorders, including postpartum depression. Your lactation consultant is another caring resource to use during these times.
Lactation consultants are trained to help mothers and families find ways to overcome the challenge of postpartum depression and find local resources to help them with this fight.
10. They Will Stay as Long as You Need Them.
Sometimes, new mamas meet with a provided lactation consultant in the hospital right after giving birth and never think to reach out to them again. You can utilize the services of a lactation consultant for as long as you need.
Some may do home visits while other have postpartum outpatient services – so don’t hesitate to contact them and have all of your questions answered. Your breastfeeding journey can quickly change without much notice. There is no timeline you need to worry about.
When to See a Lactation Consultant?
You should see a lactation consultant whenever you face a breastfeeding problem you feel you cannot solve on your own. However, there are a few specific situations when you should reach out to a lactation consultant for help:
- Latch issues: Latch refers to how your baby is able to attach their mouth to your nipple and breast during feedings. If you and your little one constantly struggle with latch issues, a lactation consultant will be able to help solve your issues.
- Milk supply issues: Do your breasts become engorged, and feel hard and painful? This often occurs when you don’t let down effectively, meaning your milk is not easily released. Or perhaps your supply is low and you need ideas for increasing it – a lactation consultant can help you figure out what’s causing the low supply and what to do about it.
- Breastfeeding fears: If much of your struggles with breastfeeding come from psychological or emotional fears and concerns, a lactation consultant will be able to work with you to overcome them.
- Infections: Some mothers may experience constant infections while they breastfeed. While serious cases may need a trip to the doctor’s office, lactation consultants can get to the root of the problem and help correct bad habits that may be leading to your infections.
Other common concerns and complications that lactation consults can help identifiy and fix are breastfeeding pain, inadequate weight gain, excess weight gain, gulping and choking during feeding, plugged ducts, vasospasms, and unexplained fussiness.
Lactation consultants provide a wide variety of services. If you struggle in any way with breastfeeding and do not feel satisfied with home remedies, consider learning more about what your local lactation consultants offer.
The Most Common Breastfeeding Problems
Be on the lookout for these common breastfeeding problems! They will be a clear signal to contact a lactation consultant.
If your baby is “tongue-tied,” then a portion of their tongue is attached to the bottom of their mouth. This makes it extremely difficult to latch on correctly. For most babies, this problem can be corrected with a simple surgery.
If your nipples are larger than average, your baby may have a hard time wrapping their lips all the way around the nipple and areola, which is important for effective breastfeeding.
If you produce a lot of milk and letdown fairly easily, this may not be a problem. However, if your milk production is below average, your baby will have to work harder to feed and a larger nipple can easily get in the way (source).
On the other hand, if your nipples are very flat or inverted, your baby may not be able to get them into their mouth at all or have hard time latching once inside their mouth.
Surprisingly, one of the most common breastfeeding problems has little to do with your anatomy or your baby’s. Instead, your breastfeeding experience may depend on your baby’s mood. If your baby is fussy, it will be a lot harder to nurse.
It is important to respond to baby’s hunger cues early to avoid trying to nurse a frantic, upset little one.
Early hunger cues in infants include:
- Smacking and licking lips.
- Opening and closing mouth.
- Sucking on lips, hands, or toys.
- Rooting or fidgeting.
Try to make your routine consistent and create a calm, comforting atmosphere for both you and your baby (source).
How to Find a Lactation Consultant
Do you want to find a lactation consultant? You have multiple options!
First, check with your doctor and local hospital. Many have lactation consultants to recommend. This is often a good option because you can use this lactation consultant throughout your pregnancy and beyond.
Online sources are the next best thing and great for mamas farther along in their breastfeeding journey. Here are two sites you can use to locate lactation consultants in your area:
Finally, talk with other mothers. They can recommend a lactation consultant they really loved working with. You can ask questions, hear their stories, and gain invaluable advice on finding a lactation consultant.
5 Signs of a Great Lactation Consultant
As you start looking for a lactation consultant, you may wonder when you have found someone who is not only qualified, but also a good fit for you and your family. These five things are signs of a great lactation consultant:
1. They Have the Right Qualifications.
Look for an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). This means they have gone through extensive training and have passed a certification exam to help moms in need (source).
To ensure your lactation consultant has the minimum amounts of training and experience, they should at least be a certified lactation counselor (CLC). These counselors will be able to help you with basic breastfeeding issues.
2. They Have Experience.
Ask your lactation consultant about their experience. This is especially important if you already have a sense of what is wrong and what you need help with. An experienced lactation consultant has seen and treated a variety of breastfeeding issues and will be confident in helping you.
3. They Understand the Big Picture.
A good lactation consultant will look at all of the factors that may be affecting your ability to breastfeed. This includes your home situation, skin-to-skin contact, sleep patterns, and more.
If you have a lactation consultant who simply focuses on your breast anatomy and milk production, they may be missing an important step to helping you.
4. They Make You Feel Comfortable.
You should feel comfortable talking to your lactation consultant about the intimacies of breastfeeding. Asking questions is so important. If you do not feel comfortable asking questions and being physically exposed around your consultant, they are probably not a right fit for you.
5. They Won’t Pressure You.
Your lactation consultant should never pressure you to do anything you do not want to do or do not feel comfortable doing. This includes the pressure to breastfeed more often or for a longer period of time.
While a good lactation consultant will definitely educate you on the importance of breastfeeding and its many health benefits, they will focus on helping you reach your personal goals.
What Happens at the First Visit?
The day has arrived! You have found a lactation consultant and you are meeting for the first time. What should you expect?
We have broken down the process most lactation consultants use for getting to know their moms and their individual needs.
Visits with your lactation consultant may take place in your home. We know this can be stressful, but do not worry. Your consultant is not there to judge you or your post-baby housekeeping skills.
Other lactation consultants have an office where you will meet, or may be employed by a physician whose space they use for appointments.
Ideally, you want to set up your appointments at a time when your baby will want to feed. This will allow your lactation consultant to see firsthand any problems you face.
Before anything else, your lactation consultant will take a medical history and have you fill out any necessary paperwork. You will be asked about:
- Your pregnancy.
- Your birth experience.
- Your baby’s milestones.
- Any pre-existing conditions.
To make this part of the meeting easier and more efficient, see if you can fill out any paperwork ahead of time. Come prepared with any necessary documents.
After going over your medical history, your lactation consultant will perform a basic exam on your baby. This includes weighing your baby and taking his or her measurements.
Most importantly, your consultant will take a closer look at your baby’s mouth. Using sterile gloves, they will examine their gums, lips, and tongue. This will reveal if there is an anatomical reason your baby struggles to breastfeed.
Depending on your personal needs, your lactation consultant may perform an exam on you. This is especially true if you have experienced breastfeeding infections, such as mastitis or cracked nipples.
Your lactation consultant will check to see if you have abnormally large or small nipples, if your breasts are engorged, or if there are symptoms of an infection. They can also work with you on how to keep your breasts healthy and soothed if an infection is present.
After your examination, your lactation consultant will try to better understand your struggles and goals. They will ask you a series of questions about your breastfeeding experience, including:
- How often you breastfeed.
- How much milk you produce.
- How much milk your baby drinks.
- If you supplement with formula.
- If you use a breast pump.
- The breastfeeding positions you’ve tried.
- Your breastfeeding struggles.
The more information you can provide your lactation consultant, the better they will be able to help you. Use a mobile app on your phone to track your breastfeeding habits before your first meeting.
When you and your baby are ready, your lactation consultant will observe you nurse your little one. This is one of the most important parts of the entire visit. It will allow your consultant to see first-hand the struggles you have and give on-the-spot ideas for what to do.
This may involve trying new positions and working on your baby’s latch.
While some simple problems can be addressed in a single visit, most lactation consultants will help you create a breastfeeding plan and routine to meet your goals. They will write this plan down for you, provide materials, and schedule any other training you might need.
Then, your lactation consultant will follow up with you to see how it is going and schedule a follow-up appointment.
Questions to Ask Your Lactation Consultant
During visits, your lactation consultant will likely ask if you have any questions they can address. If you do not know where to start, consider asking a few of these based on your needs:
- How long should I aim to breastfeed my baby?
- How much should my baby be eating each day?
- How much milk should I be producing?
- What can I do to increase milk production?
- What does a good latch look like?
- What are some different breastfeeding positions?
- What is a good diet to support healthy breastfeeding?
- What breast pumps do you recommend?
- How do I use a breast pump effectively?
- How do I properly store breast milk?
- What should I do if I want to supplement with formula?
- How do I prevent my nipples from cracking?
- What are some signs my breast are infected?
- How can I cope with a difficult nursing session?
- Should I wake up my baby to breastfeed?
- Is breastfeeding a good form of birth control?
Never be afraid to ask your lactation consultant a question. That is what they are there for!
The Cost of a Lactation Consultant
Expenses after the birth of a child change dramatically. Budgeting for a lactation consultant is not always considered and many mothers wonder if they can afford it.
Prices for lactation consultants vary depending on who you contact them through, their experience, and how many visits you need.
In general, the price will depend most on if you use a lactation consultant through your hospital or if you use a privately contract one.
Many hospitals offer lactation consultant services for free for a period of time, normally up until your baby is one year old. However, you will need to visit the hospital and may have limited access to your consultant.
Privately contracted lactation consultants generally charge anywhere from $100 to $300 dollars for a one-hour visit (source). Some will only charge you for the initial visit, while others will charge each time. It is completely up to your lactation consultant.
One of the biggest factors you will need to keep in mind is health insurance.
While the Affordable Care Act requires insurances to cover lactation services, the loopholes leave most women paying full price (source). You will need to check with your individual insurance provider to see what options are available.
You will also want to check with your lactation consultant about insurance. Some accept insurance while others do not. It is important you do your homework and work with your insurance company and your lactation consultant to find options that best meet your needs.
Did You Use a Lactation Consultant?
Breastfeeding is meant to be a special bonding time for you and your baby. With the help of a lactation consultant, you can receive the help you need to make this a reality.
We hope the information in this article made at least one more step in your journey to a beautiful breastfeeding experience easier. If you know anyone out there who could use some more details on lactation consultants, send this article to them.
If you have used a lactation consultant or if you are one yourself, we would love to know what advice you have for all of the new moms out there who may be wondering how to salvage a bad breastfeeding experience. Your personal know-how is invaluable, so please drop a comment below!