I didn't even hear the word "lactation consultant" until my son was born. Still, it only took a few days for one to change my life. My little one had a weak latch and, as a result, wasn't getting enough milk. I had to supplement his feedings with formula and, honestly, was starting to think I wouldn't be able to breastfeed at all. Then came that first appointment, and I realized there are some really important conversations to have with your lactation consultant. Conversations that make sure you are up-to-date on the latest research when it comes to feeding your baby (however you choose to do it) and maintaining the best possible health for both of you. Conversations that, sometimes and depending on your situation and what you want, can end up saving your breastfeeding relationship.
I took detailed notes throughout that first appointment with that blessed lactation consultant. I knew I only had a short time with this expert, so I needed to maximize the opportunity as best I could. After just a few minutes, I was weeping with relief as my son latched on confidently thanks to some gentle advice, expertise, and understanding.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are trained health care professionals that treat a range of different women in different circumstances. Breastfeeding wasn't always easy for me, but with the help and support of my lactation consultant, I was able to nurse my son until he was a toddler. So, with that in mind and because it never hurts to be as informed as possible, here are a few conversations I'm so glad I had with my lactation consultant:
"What Am I Doing Wrong?"
Many women seek the advice of a lactation consultant (or a lactation consultant is provided to them via a hospital) when they're encountering problems with breastfeeding. Moms also tend to unfairly blame themselves if they don't find nursing easy. The truth is, you are probably not doing anything wrong at all. All it takes is a few simple changes and, usually, the breastfeeding experience will improve for both you and your baby.
The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding document advocates for financial support to enable all women to get the support they need. Having access to breastfeeding support, like lactation consultants, is a privilege that, honestly, every woman who wishes to nurse should be provided.
I was feeling very emotional during that first lactation consultant appointment. I was positive that I was doing it all wrong and, as a result, I was in desperate need of a little confidence boost. I was so lucky to live in a city that prioritizes women's health and provides free appointments with lactation consultant because, it turns out, I wasn't doing anything wrong at all. I just needed some help.
"Does This Look Right To You?"
I ended up reading so many breastfeeding books and watching so many instructional videos that by the time I was trying to do it myself, my head was spinning. I also realized that when you are the one that is breastfeeding, you have a totally different point of view. As a result, it can be hard to see if your baby is positioned correctly.
I really appreciated the chance to be observed closely by an expert, and benefit from the little tweaks she made to my posture and my baby's latch.
"Is This Normal?"
From nipple pain, discharge, thrush, and mastitis, there are quite a few complications a new mom can face when trying to breastfeed. Thankfully, a lactation consultant can let you know which symptoms are normal, and which will require a visit to your doctor for further treatment. They can also tell you if your baby is atypical and identify any feeding problems they may have that could require further treatment, such as tongue or lip ties.
"What Other Positions Can I Try?"
Most moms have heard of different breastfeeding positions, like the "football hold" or the "cross over" position. Translating a picture of a hold into practically manipulating a wriggly hungry baby, however, is much harder than it sounds. A lactation consultant can help you to try a variety of positions, alter your hold to ensure the best possible latch, and make sure you are both comfortable.
My lactation consultant helped me to perfect side-lying while breastfeeding, which helped us all to get a little more sleep.
"Is My Baby Hungry?"
There isn't a measurement table printed on the side of your boob that allows you to gauge how much your baby is actually eating. Would that be weird? Yes. Would it be convenient, though? You bet. WebMD states that breastfed babies feed more frequently than formula fed babies, leading moms to worry that their babies are hungry. "Formula isn't digested as quickly as breast milk, so formula-fed babies don't need to eat as often, specially in the first few months," according to WebMD.
Lactation consultants can help you to identify your baby's individual hunger cues, so you can get them fed before they're too hungry and too cranky. .
"Can I Eat This?"
After the diet restrictions of pregnancy, most nursing moms are happy to learn that they usually don't need to change their diet at all. That doesn't mean people will try to control or limit certain foods from breastfeeding moms, though. Thankfully, lactation consultants can help you to assess if something you are eating is making your baby gassy or uncomfortable, and will provide you with the latest recommendations.
"How Can I Increase My Supply?"
In my experience, it's normal to worry that you're not making enough milk when your baby is feeding every 20 minutes. This can be totally normal, though, and usually isn't a sign of a problem unless your baby is gaining weight.
Still, lactation consultants can offer advice to help increase your milk supply naturally if it's necessary. I found that I was always thirsty when I breastfed. If I forgot to drink water I made less milk, so I always made sure I was hydrated.
"Should I Buy A Pump?"
My city has a lending program for hospital grade pumps, which made me a very lucky new mom. I was able to borrow a high-quality breast pump for, well, free. If you don't have a problem like the aforementioned, though, a lactation consultant can help you find the right pump and get accustomed to how it's used.
"When Should I Wean My Baby?"
My son self-weaned when he was 30 months old. That doesn't mean I didn't consider weaning him myself, though, and I'm so grateful for the helpful weaning tips my lactation consultant gave me. I was advised on when to introduce solid foods, how to gently and gradually wean my baby, and basically made sure whatever I decided to do when it came to weaning would be the most comfortable choice for me and my baby.
If you decide to breastfeed and are able to do so, a lactation consultant is an amazing resource to support and guide you in your new role. In my experience, breastfeeding isn't always easy, so there's no reason to deal with the trials and tribulations alone.