From pregnancy to weaning, nursing experts can help moms make the most out of breastfeeding their babies.


New moms are immersed in a world of changes when a baby arrives, and one of those changes -- breastfeeding -- can be particularly stressful. According to Cathy Carothers, president of the board of directors of the International Lactation Consultant Association, chair-elect of the United States Breastfeeding Committee, and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), that reaction is common. "Most mothers today don't know what is 'normal.' They didn't grow up in families where people talked about breastfeeding and they just don't know what to expect," Carothers says.

That's where IBCLCs come in. These men and women train intensively to know the ins and outs of nursing. Although they often help new moms with issues and concerns that arise with breastfeeding, you don't have to have a problem to call a lactation consultant. In fact, they're available to offer classes and help answer moms-to-be questions about breastfeeding even before the baby is born. "Lactation consultants are involved with mothers at several different phases of their parenting experience, so we're not just about problems, we're also about prevention," Carothers says.

There are a couple of ways to find a lactation consultant. One is to ask if there's one at the hospital where you deliver; many hospitals have one on staff. "We recommend that all mothers ask for a consult in the hospital," Carothers says. "It doesn't hurt to have someone trained in lactation to come in and just watch the way you're nursing the baby." Consultants will be able to tell you if you're holding the baby properly, if the baby is latching correctly, and if milk is transferring as it should; they can also answer any questions you might have.

Another option is to go to the International Lactation Consultant Association's website, ILCA is the professional association for IBCLCs, representing more than 6,000 members in 85 countries. The website has a search function that allows you to find an IBCLC in your area.

mother breastfeeding hungry baby
Credit: PhotoAlto/ Matton

Questions for Potential Consultants

Once you've narrowed down the field, you can select the lactation consultant who is right for your needs. Carothers provided the following checklist of questions to ask before making your decision.

Is he or she an IBCLC?

This is an important distinction because it represents the only credentialed lactation consultant. An IBCLC has received training, accrued hundreds of hours of experienced, and passed an exam to become a certified health professional.

Where does the consultant practice?

More important, does that location mesh with your expectations? Is the consultant available in the hospital? Will he or she make home visits? Will you have to visit an office? Every lactation consultant is different.

Does the consultant speak your language?

It may seem obvious, but this is vital. Be sure you're able to communicate with your lactation consultant to get the most out of the experience.

Does he or she listen?

This is a health care professional, and you want to seek the qualities that you'd seek in a doctor or nurse. When you first meet with the lactation consultant, be sure that he or she is taking time to ask questions and find how you feel, and not just instructing you on what to do.

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