lactation consultant for breastfeeding

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If you’ve decided to breastfeed your baby, a lactation consultant or other breastfeeding support person can help get your breastfeeding off to a smoother start and assist with any problems or concerns that crop up. But what does a lactation specialist do exactly? Read on to learn what kind of breastfeeding support is available for you and your baby.

Why Might You Need Breastfeeding Support?

Some new mums find that breastfeeding comes naturally, but many find it challenging for all sorts of reasons. If you fall into the latter group, a little breastfeeding support can make a world of difference. Even before you give birth you can benefit from breastfeeding support. For example, you may like to get some advice before giving birth so that you feel ready when the time comes. Breastfeeding support specialists often hold prenatal classes where you’ll learn about various aspects of breastfeeding. Some of the breastfeeding problems you might encounter are easily solved by learning the right technique. For example, you might need a little help finding the ideal breastfeeding position to ensure that your baby latches on properly. Sometimes there might be other, physical causes of problems you might face. For example, some babies with a usually harmless condition known as tongue-tie may have trouble latching on for a feed. In other cases, your baby may be feeding but you could be worried about insufficient breast milk supply or start experiencing breast discomfort or nipple pain. Or you might be worried about whether your breasts will be able to produce enough milk for your baby during growth spurts and periods of cluster feeding. Mums with twins or other multiples, premature babies or infants with a health condition may also need extra help from a suitably qualified lactation specialist. The type of breastfeeding support, and the person qualified to provide it, can differ depending on your needs and the nature of any problems you’re experiencing. What a lactation consultant or other breastfeeding support specialist can offer:

  • Counselling and advice if you have any concerns or questions about breastfeeding

  • Specific tips on breastfeeding

  • Guidance on topics like breastfeeding positions, latch, burping your baby, and common causes of nipple pain and feeding difficulties such as poor attachment or a thrush infection

  • Help and advice on how to maintain breast milk supply

  • How to calm your infant if he or she gets fussy before or during a feed

  • Strategies for continuing breastfeeding after returning to work

  • Advice on dealing with breast engorgement, mastitis or similar problems

  • Information on how to express and store breast milk

  • Suggestions for how to go about breastfeeding after breast surgery

  • Tailored instruction on breastfeeding if you have twins, triplets, a preemie or an infant with a medical concern.

In Summary

A breastfeeding support specialist with the right training and experience can help get your breastfeeding off to a smooth start and help you overcome any problems feeding your newborn baby.

Types of Lactation Consultants and Breastfeeding Support Providers

There are various kinds of lactation specialist or breastfeeding supporter who can help with different aspects of breastfeeding depending on their level of experience and training. Here’s a brief rundown of who can offer trustworthy breastfeeding support and advice, either in the hospital or birthing centre right after giving birth or later when you’re at home with your newborn or older baby.

Your Midwife and Health Visitor

Your midwife and health visitor can give you hands-on support to help get you off on the right foot with your breastfeeding. Your health visitor will be available to offer ongoing help and guidance during the first years after your baby is born. If you want to contact your midwife or health visitor between scheduled appointments – for breastfeeding support or any other reason – you should be able to find their contact details in your baby’s personal child health record (PCHR), sometimes called the ‘red book’.

Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) Hospitals and Communities

Staff at hospitals and other institutions accredited under the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative – such as children’s centres and NHS community service providers – will have received basic training in breastfeeding support and counselling. These are usually health professionals, other health workers or children’s centre workers. Their breastfeeding support services are provided to mums free of charge.

Peer Supporter

Peer supporters (also known as Peer Counsellors, Mother Supporters or Breastfeeding Buddies) are usually volunteers who have also breastfed their own babies and undergone basic training in breastfeeding support. They are qualified to provide support and assistance with many basic lactation issues, while referring any more complex problems to a specialist. Their services are free for mums at community and children’s centres, breastfeeding drop-in clinics and hospitals.

Breastfeeding Counsellor

Breastfeeding counsellors are mothers with at least 6 to 12 months of experience breastfeeding their own babies, who have completed a more in-depth training programme than peer supporters. Breastfeeding counsellors may be affiliated with various organisations, so their precise job title differs depending on their accreditation. For example:

  • Breastfeeding Counsellor. Affiliated with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers or the National Childbirth Trust.

  • Breastfeeding Supporter. Accredited by the Breastfeeding Network.

  • Le Leche League Leader. A breastfeeding counsellor certified by La Leche League UK.

Breastfeeding counsellors may be volunteers or work in paid roles, often as health professionals. They may also give antenatal classes or run breastfeeding groups, as well as staffing breastfeeding helplines. Their breastfeeding support and counselling services are free for mums and they are qualified to assist with many common breastfeeding problems. If needed, a breastfeeding counsellor can refer you to a more highly qualified lactation specialist to deal with more complex problems.

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

An international board-certifed lactation consultant (IBCLC) is a highly experienced breastfeeding specialist and counsellor who has received advanced training and passed the examination set by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). An IBCLC is qualified to help with the full range of breastfeeding issues from the basic to the most complex. You’ll find International Board Certified Lactation Consultants working in community centres and hospitals, including neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) where they provide feeding support for the most fragile and vulnerable babies and their parents. As well as being employed by hospitals and other institutions or working on a voluntary basis, IBCLC’s may also set up their own private practices offering one-on-one counselling and breastfeeding support on a fee-paying basis.

In Summary

There are several types of qualified breastfeeding support provider. The help they can provide depends on their training, but all can refer you to a more advanced lactation specialist if necessary.

How Can You Access Breastfeeding Support?

Here are some of the ways you can get help and support with breastfeeding:

  • Your midwife, health visitor or doctor is usually the best place to start if you’re looking for breastfeeding support. They may be able to help directly, with hands-on assistance and advice, point you in the direction of other sources of help, or recommend or refer you to a lactation consultant, breastfeeding counsellor or peer supporter.

  • Antenatal classes. If you’d like info and practical advice on breastfeeding (as well as other aspects of childbirth and parenting) before your little one is born, it’s a great idea to sign up for antenatal or parenting classes. Ask your midwife what’s available locally. It’s best to start looking into antenatal classes as soon as possible to be sure of a place on your chosen course, as demand can be high.

  • Local breastfeeding drop-ins, cafes and centres. Besides getting breastfeeding support, these can also be great places to make friends and meet other parents with young children.

  • Your nearest Sure Start Children’s Centre or Family Information Service may be able to provide you with a list of local breastfeeding support groups.

  • Breastfeeding support charities and organisations. Not-for-profit organisations such as Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, the Breastfeeding Network, La Leche League, National Childbirth Trust and the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers are involved in training and certifying lactation consultants and breastfeeding counsellors. Their websites also offer resources and information related to breastfeeding support.

  • Breastfeeding helplines, such as the National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212) and others, including helplines that offer advice in languages other than English.

  • Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend chatbot. The NHS-powered Start4Life chatbot offers instant access to reliable breastfeeding info 24/7.

In Summary

Your midwife, health visitor or doctor can point you in the direction of a qualified breastfeeding support provider or registered IBCLC lactation consultant. Local breastfeeding cafes and drop-ins, children’s centres or family information centres and breastfeeding support networks and organisations are also great sources of breastfeeding info, advice and practical assistance.

How Much Does It Cost to See a Lactation Consultant?

Breastfeeding support doesn’t have to cost anything in the UK. Peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors and staff at Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) accredited institutions provide their services free of charge. International board certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs) may also work in NHS-funded hospitals, children’s centres and community centres, providing services that are free for mums. Lactation consultants with IBCLC UK certification can also offer one-on-one breastfeeding support and counselling on a fee-paying basis. In this case the fees will vary from one lactation specislit to the next, so if you’re looking for a private lactation specialist ask around and enquire at the individual lactation consultants.

Where Can You Find a Private Lactation Consultant?

If you’d like one-to-one breastfeeding support from a private IBCLC, your midwife, health visitor or GP may be able to recommend one who works in your local area. Alternatively, Lactation Consultants of Great Britain has a IBCLC lactation consultant finder on its website, which shows registered IBCLC practitioners close to you. IBCLC’s are qualified to deal with even the most complex breastfeeding issues because of their advanced training, clinical experience and regular recertification, so it’s important to check that anyone offering their services as a lactation consultant is the real deal. To check that a your chosen lactation consultant really is a registered IBCLC, use the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners’ credential checker.

The Bottom Line

If you’re planning to breastfeed your baby, you may be keen to know what kinds of breastfeeding support are on hand to help you get started or to help you at any point with any breastfeeding-related issues. The kind of breastfeeding support you might want depends on many things, including the complexity of any breastfeeding issues you have and your personal preferences. For some mums the advice and support of your midwife or health visitor, a peer supporter or breastfeeding counsellor could be enough. Others might prefer or need to seek help from a highly qualified IBCLC specialist. Whichever route you go, getting the right help from someone you trust and can work together is important. Whether you’re a first-time mum wanting reassurance and advice, a mum-to-be with lots of questions or someone who has breastfed a baby before but now has a specific question or concern, breastfeeding support is available for you.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.