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What to Look for In a Lactation Consultant

by Heather Kelly, IBCLC.   First appeared in Stork Magazine, August 2007, courtesy of Expecting Models.

When it comes to breastfeeding help, there is usually very little “shopping around” that goes on.  After all, the situation is usually urgent and you as a new mother may feel desperate.  It is common to ask advice from the first person whom you reach on the phone or who calls you back.  Since most breastfeeding problems are extremely short-lived and relatively minor, you may not feel like choosing the best “match” for you in this one area is all that important.  Additionally, there may not be a varied range of consultants in your area, forcing you to go with the local person–whether she is your style or not–for help and guidance.

Heather Kelly, IBCLC teaches a breastfeeding class in New York City.

However, breastfeeding is part of parenting and while the initial struggles may, indeed, be transient, the relationship is one that is multi-faceted, often in flux (particularly around milestones) and deeply profound for both you and your child.  One thing you can do is do a little legwork beforehand.  Gather the names of consultants in your area either from your doctor, your co-workers or your friends.  Give the person a call.  You may want to consider some of the following questions:  Can you relate to this person, either in terms of personality or lifestyle or both?  Do you feel you connect with this person and that she understands a bit about who you are as a person?  If she runs a support group, attend that group once when you are still pregnant.  Observe the types of questions that are asked and the answers the consultant gives.  Does she really listen to the women in the group?  Does she seem to give individualized advice or generalized bits of information to the new mothers?  Breastfeeding carries with it many varied philosophies; some consultants discourage pumping and bottlefeeding for a break from breastfeeding, for example, and encourage feeding at the breast whenever needed.  If this sort of exclusive attachment parenting is not your style–or you at least want to leave the door open to define your style, without feeling constricted–then a person who pushes an agenda like this may not be for you. Remember, too, that a good consultant can help you identify and define your parenting style without imposing theirs onto you.  If you have a consultant that breastfed her children until they were five, it does not necessarily mean that she is going to push these parameters onto you. 

If you live in an area where breastfeeding help is scarce and you don’t have much of a choice when it comes to hiring a consultant, then make sure that you are clear on points that ring true for you.  For example, if your nipples are so sore, you are convinced you are going to throw in the towel and quit the entire enterprise, make sure you relay this to the consultant and do not allow yourself to be convinced that “nursing through the pain” is acceptable to you.  Ask the consultant if there is any way you can take a break from nursing and pump for a feeding or two to give your breasts a rest.  If this is not acceptable to the consultant, seek a second opinion from your OB or pediatrician.   A good consultant will be confident, creative and considerate.  Don’t take less than that at this fragile time.

While choosing a consultant may not seem important, it can influence the introduction to this very important relationship you are about to enter into, namely nourishing your child.  Pausing to consider a few key points can help make this decision clearer and the experience smoother for you as a new mother.