What is a Lactation Consultant?

As I mentioned in my previous post, this month we will be discussing lactation consultants, the different types and how to choose the best fit for your family. A lactation consultant is a specialist in lactation and breastfeeding just like a dentist is a specialist in dental health and a pediatrician specializes in children’s health. Lactation professionals usually fall into three categories: lactation counselor or educator, lactation consultant (LC or CLC) and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Some will have different training, a different scope of practice and not all cities will have access to all three types.

Lactation or breastfeeding counselors/educators will go through some training, such as a weekend workshop, that covers breastfeeding basics. There may not be a required test and no hands-on training is provided. A certified lactation consultant (LC or CLC) will have approximately 45 hours of specialized instruction and an exam. Some programs may not require training in a clinical setting. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is required to have at least 90 hours of lactation instruction with 500 to 1000+ clinic hours with a mentor IBCLC. They must also be a licensed healthcare provider or take additional college courses. The final step is a 4-hour exam. IBCLCs are also required to re-certify every five years.

Where do lactation consultants work?
If you choose to birth at a hospital, most will have a lactation consultant on staff and you may have access to them for a specific number of days after giving birth. Some regions offer complimentary lactation support in a group setting, such as the Ontario Early Years Centres. Most cities and towns also have private practices.

How do I find a lactation consultant?
As with most things related to parenting and babies, word-of-mouth may be your best friend! Ask your doctor, your friends or other mothers who they recommend. Otherwise you can find most, if not all, lactation consultants online. While Google might be your first stop, you should also take the time to search accredited associations for listings near you:

How do I choose a lactation consultant?
While choosing any type of healthcare provider is a personal choice, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Which organization did they certify with?
  • What kinds of resources do they use? Are these resources science-based?
  • What is their scope of practice? Are they qualified to counsel you on your particular case?
  • Are they taking the time to listen to you? As the mother, you have every right to be a part of the solution. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or voice your concerns.
  • Depending on your concerns, the lactation consultant should put you on a feeding plan. For example, if it is decided to supplement, your consultant should give you a specific timeline of how to increase your breastfeeding sessions and how to wean from the supplementation with appropriate checkups.
  • Do they promote breastfeeding? Sounds silly, but like any profession there are good and not-so-good consultants out there. If your goal is to exclusively breastfeed, then they should be supporting your choices. Same goes if you are breastfeeding and supplementing. The lactation consultant should be able to provide you with science-based answers and help you towards your goals.

Even if someone recommends a lactation consultant, they may not be the right fit for you. The bottom line is that you need to go with your gut and be able to trust the lactation consultant. If you don’t trust them, find someone else. You know your baby best. If you’re not comfortable with the answers given to you, keep asking questions, or go find another professional.

Lactation consultants are a great resource for parents. Are you interested in learning more about them? Check out Milkology’s breastfeeding myths article here!

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