Can A Certified Lactation Consultant Help You Breastfeed?

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Although babies have been breastfed since the dawn of mankind, only in the last few decades have hospitals, birthing centers, and pediatrician's offices employed consultants whose sole role is to assist mother and baby in establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship. If you're a new mom -- or even an experienced mom who has some questions on how to improve the breastfeeding process -- what help can a lactation consultant offer you? Read on to learn more about the role of and services provided by a lactation consultant. 

What training is required to become a lactation consultant?

Lactation consultants are highly regulated and must complete several lengthy steps in order to be licensed. In the U.S. and abroad, lactation consultants are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). To qualify for certification, candidates must have a degree or a certain number of years of experience in the healthcare field -- for example, a nursing degree, physical therapy degree, or experience as a home health aide. Candidates who don't have this degree or experience will be required to complete a Health Sciences Education course before taking the certification exam. 

In addition to this general medical education, lactation consultants must also demonstrate specific expertise in both human lactation and the mechanics and psychology of breastfeeding. Candidates must pass a certification exam administered by IBLCE and complete clinical hours, similar to an internship, in which they assist breastfeeding mothers. These clinical hours are supervised and evaluated by a certified lactation consultant. 

Where can you go to find a lactation consultant?

One of the benefits of using a certified lactation consultant is the flexibility offered. Some lactation consultants are employed by hospitals, birthing centers, or doctor's offices, and can provide their services while you are at one of these locations. These consultants are most useful in helping you get a good start at breastfeeding and ensuring that your milk supply is sufficient for your baby's purposes. 

Other lactation consultants are "unaffiliated" -- meaning that they are independent and not employed by any one medical provider. These consultants can even make house calls, assisting you and your baby in the privacy of your own home. Unaffiliated lactation consultants are most useful in troubleshooting issues or problems with breastfeeding, particularly since they have the opportunity to observe you breastfeeding where you feel most comfortable. 

To find a certified lactation consultant in your area, consult the International Lactation Consultant Association's "Find A Lactation Consultant" tool

If you have already stopped breastfeeding, is it too late to seek assistance?

One of the primary concerns among many new mothers is the ability to produce enough milk to fulfill their baby's needs. Often, mothers who don't feel they are producing enough milk will switch to formula and stop breastfeeding completely. 

However, even if you've already stopped breastfeeding, you can still benefit from the services of a lactation consultant. Because of their expertise in the lactation process, they are often able to offer tips and advice on restarting your milk supply and increasing this supply to a level with which you and your baby will be comfortable. These consultants are well-versed in the types of herbs, such as fenugreek, that can increase milk supply and are safe for your baby. 

How much will I pay for the services of the lactation consultant?

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), lactation services sought through a hospital or doctor's office are provided with no co-payment. Unaffiliated lactation consultants may also be covered -- check with your health insurance provider to see exactly what services are covered under your plan. You shouldn't let concerns about cost keep you from seeking lactation assistance. 

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