For months after my sons were born, I was told by doctors, nurses, well-meaning family members, and even close friends that I must not have been made to nurse. I spent the first months (not weeks–months) of breastfeeding crying, despondent, and in pain. I had every problem known to breastfeeding women and the lactation community: nursing blisters, thrush, mastitis, overactive letdown; you name it, I had it.
I sought the help and guidance of many lactation counselors and consultants with my firstborn and I tried to manage it all on a modest budget, which was incredibly difficult. With the help of La Leche League leaders and volunteers, I was able to successfully breastfeed my first son a full two years, and my second until he was 4.5.
I vowed that if I could breastfeed these babies into toddlerhood, I would give back what had been given to me. I became a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor through University of San Diego extension. I have counseled dozens of women, including hard-to-treat cases and women who were certain they would never breastfeed again. I love what I do and I love seeing happy moms and happy babies.
Here’s a bit more about the world of lactation support.
What is a Lactation Consultant?
A lactation consultant (LC) carries the full title International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, which indicates that they have completed hundreds of hours of training, coursework, and certification. They are medical professionals who know everything about breastfeeding and can troubleshoot and help moms and babies in need. They are not allied with any particular style of parenting, although they do support breastfeeding as their primary job and issues of sleeping and baby-wearing, for example, which tend to also be part of their expertise.
What About Other Support?
I am a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor, but I am not an LC. I went through coursework and training without putting in time in a hospital attending to mothers for the hundreds of hours required in order to be an LC. I am trained to understand the anatomy and physiology of the breast and milk production, I am taught how to troubleshoot, and I am trained to work on latch and positioning, as well as to provide resources and moral support for the challenges many women have breastfeeding.
When Should You Reach Out for Help?
As soon as possible! One poorly positioned baby in one nursing session can cause problems that may take days to remedy. Problems with breastfeeding can snowball faster than you’d like to believe. One small problem can become a larger problem, which can introduce a host of other problems. Get help and reach out if you have any questions. Breastfeeding for humans is not always intuitive and that doesn’t mean you are a bad mom, or a needy mom, or an anxious mom. I was all of those things, but it had nothing to do with my need to reach out!
What Will Happen?
A lot of problems can actually be remedied over the phone, but having someone see you in person is best.
Here are some of the kinds of questions you might be asked:
1. How big was the baby at birth and how big is baby now?
2. Was the birth vaginal or Caesarean and were there any complications? (Caesarean sections and the fluids given through IV can introduce breastfeeding complications, as can medications given during C-sections)
3. What medications were given to the mother and/or baby?
1. How many times in a 24-hour period is baby nursing and sleeping?
2. How many wet and poopy diapers has your baby been having?
3. What is baby’s mood like: crying, restless? What’s baby’s behavior at the breast?
4. Do you use a pump? For what reason? (It is important for us to know if mom is going to be returning to work, or if someone recommended a pump; sometimes pumps are overused or used too early which can cause problems.)
1. If there is pain while nursing, is it during latch on, or throughout the feeding?
2. Are there any cracks, blisters, or blood from the nipples?
3. Do you have “different” nipples: inverted, pseudo-inverted, history of breast reduction or enlargement surgery?
1. What is your diet like?
2. Are you sleeping and eating and drinking regularly?
3. Do you have any past medical problems or medications you are taking?
4. What kind of support do you have?
What Happens Next?
If you can be seen by a consultant or counselor, they will want to watch the baby latch on, and if possible, be with you for a full feeding. Babies will be checked for tongue-tie, and sometimes recessed chins can explain discomfort during nursing, as can a large nipple-to-baby’s mouth ratio! These things are best assessed in person.
Home visits are incredibly helpful, because we get to see moms in their environment. A lot of times, poor latch, pain, and other problems are easily remedied by changing the position mom nurses in, and by showing how to correctly use pillows to avoid damage to the nipple. Any visit is still terrific, though, and first-time moms may feel particularly lost after leaving the consult; things often go fine with someone helping, but once you are alone, you may feel you forgot everything you’ve been told!
Follow-up is critical, and talking to other moms and joining a support group like La Leche League will only help you retain what the consultant helped you with.
Where Can I Find Help?
Specialty stores that sell breast pumps are great resources. Parenting stores in general may also have resources.
Call a local midwife or doula. These are women who dedicate their lives to natural birth but also to natural feeding of a baby; many have women they know who can help you. Directories can be found here for doulas and midwives.
Contacting La Leche League in your area is possibly the most important call you can make. It’s free and there are chapters in hundreds of communities all over the world–I even found one when I was traveling through the West Bank years ago with my nursling! It’s mother-to-mother support, and chances are there is a woman in your community who has the resources or referral you need.
Call your local hospital and ask for a lactation consultant; if you can’t use their resources they may be able to tell you about other resources available to you. If your hospital is not “baby friendly,” find one that is and call them. (For more information on what a baby friendly hospital is, visit here.)
How Do I Pay For This?
IBCLCs in hospitals are free, but once you leave the hospital, many charge hourly rates which many families find cost-prohibitive. Some breastfeeding/breast pump stores have free consults certain days of the week. There are also women who will help for free through La Leche League. It’s always worth asking.
The day will come when getting breastfeeding help is acknowledged as critical for the health of all women, babies, families, the community, and the world. Until then, do your part by getting the best help you can and doing your best to find support, resources, and education. There are thousands of women here to help you do just that; you just need to reach out.