What is a lactation consultant? A woman’s ‘breast’ friend?

When it comes to successful breast feeding, a lactation consultant can be a woman’s ‘breast friend’. Whilst there can be many difficulties and challenges associated with breast feeding, a lactation consultant can help to overcome them and ensure the successful establishment and continuation of breast feeding.

Introduction

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that where possible, mothers should exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months of life, and then continue breastfeeding combined with solids for 2 years – or as long as the mother and baby desire (Breastfeeding (who.int)). Breastfeeding is a healthy and natural way to feed a baby, but unfortunately it doesn’t always come easily for new mothers and can present a range of challenges that might cause a woman to give up on breastfeeding altogether. A lack of milk, sore nipples or a baby who just refuses to latch on – these are all situations that can make breastfeeding difficult for women. Fortunately, lactation consultants are available to help them through these challenging stages to ensure that the breastfeeding journey is both successful and enjoyable.

lactation consultant
Breastfeeding doesn’t always come ‘naturally’. A lactation consultant can give helpful, personal advice.

What do lactation consultants do?

A lactation consultant is a healthcare professional who is qualified and knowledgeable in relation to breastfeeding. They have current understandings about evidence-based best practices that support women and babies through their breastfeeding journey. 

A lactation consultant will be able to assist a mother shortly after birth to establish breastfeeding and to maintain it. They are especially helpful in difficult or high-risk circumstances and can help to resolve a wide variety of complex breastfeeding situations. They will be able to help a mother determine if her baby is getting enough breast milk and will provide advice to help avoid common breastfeeding problems. They can be particularly helpful for women who have premature babies that lack the ability to suck, breathe and swallow effectively and therefore need a bit more help to get breastfeeding occurring successfully. The Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand (LCANZ) provide a whole range of information and support for breastfeeding mothers. You can access their website here: Home – LCANZ Lactation Consultants of Australia & New Zealand

lactation consultant
It is always best to ensure a lactation consultant is suitably qualified to help you

A lactation consultant can also provide valuable prenatal education for expecting couples and they have been proven very effective at helping new mums get started with breastfeeding and then maintain it for as long as they desire. This can be particularly helpful when considering to start your baby in a childcare centre and you may wish to mix breastfeeding, with expressing milk for childcare, as well as using formula to do mixed feeding perhaps.

When choosing a lactation consultant, it is best to go with one who is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to ensure that the service you receive is from a suitably qualified consultant.

How much does it cost to see a lactation consultant?

In cases where a lactation consultant is also a qualified midwife, consultations are eligible for Medicare rebates. A referral from a GP or obstetrician is required in order to be eligible for midwifery services, however a referral is not needed if a woman is looking for one-off lactation services for a baby up to 6 weeks and 6 days postpartum.

There are also many lactation consultants that are not qualified midwives, and in these cases the client may be eligible to pay the full fee. Some private health funds do cover access to these kinds of services but it will depend on the individual health fund provider, so it’s best to look into this ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

Fortunately, within Australia many women receive a visit from a lactation consultant through the hospital where they deliver. This usually occurs within hours or days after the baby’s birth and is more common in larger hospitals than smaller regional hospitals.

Do lactation consultants come to your house?

A lactation consultant can visit you almost anywhere. Whilst they regularly visit hospitals and might have a clinic or office – many lactation consultants also conduct home visits. If a mother has a new baby, sometimes a home visit is easiest and allows the woman to feel comfortable and the lactation consultant the opportunity to observe within the home environment. Please note that some consultants will charge additional fees for travel when visiting clients at home.

Lactation consultant
Babies can have difficulties with latching, breathing and swallowing – they need to be ‘taught’ how to breastfeed

What can I expect at a lactation consultation?

It is helpful to access a lactation consultant as part of the prenatal care process to assist a woman in preparing for breastfeeding. The consultant can help a mother-to-be practice how to hold their baby during breastfeeding and can offer advice on things like breast pumps and how to prevent or relieve the discomfort of mastitis or sore nipples.

During the first meeting with a lactation consultant, they will ask clients for information about theirs and their baby’s health. They will want to know about the pregnancy, the baby’s birth, birth weight and any relevant family health history. It is also likely that they will want to know how many wet and soiled nappies a baby is having and will want to hear about any concerns the mother is having.

lactation consultant
Breastfeeding is recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation) for at LEAST the first 6 months of life

After the initial information gathering process, a lactation consultant will want to look over the baby and examine the mother’s breasts and nipples. They will observe the baby as they are fed and help to correct any issues with the feeding position. A lactation consultant will also be able to determine if a baby is latching on, sucking and swallowing properly, and will identify any issues that might be causing problems for the mother or baby. A lactation consultant will then offer the mother specific instructions and leave their contact details in case there are any follow up issues. They also often provide information about breastfeeding support groups in the area so that the mother can broaden her network of support.  

Whilst in-hospital access to a lactation consultant is more common, many mothers seek the help of a lactation consultant after leaving the hospital. A lactation consultant can prove invaluable in cases where an older baby is suddenly having trouble feeding or where unexpected problems in relation to breast feeding have arisen.

Summary

A woman should not hesitate to contact a lactation consultant if they have any questions or concerns related to breastfeeding. The sooner that issues are treated, the better the result will be for both mother and baby. A lactation consultant can play a key role in ensuring the success of breast feeding by helping to overcome obstacles and challenges that can interfere with the process. Whilst we know that ‘fed’ is certainly best, a lactation consultant can certainly be a mother’s ‘breast friend’. If you are looking for a lactation consultant within Australia, check out the following link: Looking for a Lactation Consultant? | Australian Breastfeeding Association

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2 thoughts on “What is a lactation consultant? A woman’s ‘breast’ friend?

  1. Great article!
    After finding breastfeeding easy with my first, I struggled to feed my second child. It was frustrating to understand why it was so hard.
    We saw both a private and public lactation consultant and they were amazing. They were encouraging and supportive, gave some tips where needed, and them acknowledged that my baby physically couldn’t breastfeed effectively. He was failing to thrive so needed to take a bottle. I was devastated, but began expressing so I could still provide the milk for my child. We had to fortify it with formula under the recommendation and guidance of dietitian, speech pathologist and paediatrician. It was a tough journey but I’m so proud that I was able to express for 12 months for him and provide him with the best start to life that I could. Highly recommend lactation consultants to help others along with their feeding journey.

    1. Thanks so much Money Savvy Mamma!! Sorry to hear you had difficulty with your second child – I had difficulty with my son but after persisting, he got it and then we did successful breastfeeding for 14 months. That’s wonderful that you persisted so much and sought out that help from professionals. That must have been tough for you to continue to express but also SO important that your bub had that breast milk for that amount of time! Lactation consultants definitely add so much value and they were helpful for me in the beginning too. Thanks so much for your support and I’m glad the article provided value for you, but also great to hear your bubbas had the best start to life they could!!

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