Danielle Harmon, MPH
Executive Director, United States Lactation Consultant Association
Parents that choose to breastfeed or chestfeed their infants are often faced with uncertainty. For a “natural” process, parents commonly have questions and concerns, but when they look for help they may not know where to turn. Fortunatately, there are professional lactation care providers doing this important work who are ready and able to assist!
The health benefits of breastfeeding and human milk feeding for a baby — and even the birthing parent — are rarely argued, and as health disparities persist it is crucial to support all lactating parents to achieve better health outcomes for the family. Making sure that all parents have the opportunity to provide human milk to their babies in whatever way they wish and for however long they want is the goal, and access to skilled lactation care is an important part of this puzzle.
The lactation profession consists of a variety of providers that vary in training, skills, and expertise, so it is important that parents are familiar with their options, know the questions to ask, and where to look for help.
Does everyone need lactation assistance?
Not necessarily. Whether it’s questions prenatally about what to expect or related to feeding positions, milk supply, or weight gain, many parents find that talking to a lactation care provider can improve their lactation experience. Lactation care providers are trained to help parents meet their individual feeding goals. Therefore, the type of provider that a parent needs is based on the type of support that parent is seeking. “Working with a lactation care provider does not mean things are going wrong. Some parents just need that reassurance that things are going right!” said Michelle Stulberger, Board President of United States Lactation Consultant Association (USLCA). “Just as a family will take their healthy infant for regular check-ups, it can be beneficial to seek skilled lactation care from a trained lactation care provider.”
How do I choose a lactation care provider?
Breastfeeding has never had more supporters than now, but how do families know how to access the right type of care for their needs? The first question parents need to ask is, “Who is providing my breastfeeding support?” and be familiar with the various types of providers.
Below is a summary of the most commonly seen types of lactation care providers and their areas of expertise.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant® (IBCLC®)
These health care professionals are certified to provide clinical lactation care in all types of settings, including both in and out of the hospital. IBCLCs are specialists in the management of human lactation, similar to when a medical specialty is needed above and beyond primary care. USLCA houses a directory of member IBCLCs so parents can find and contact IBCLCs locally or via telehealth appointments.
Sometimes called Certified Lactation Counselors or Breastfeeding Educators, these lactation care providers offer education and guidance on basic breastfeeding techniques. These individuals serve as an important resource for common lactation questions and concerns that do not require clinical expertise.
Peer supporters offer encouragement and information through community-based programs like La Leche League, Baby Café USA, and WIC. Peer supporters often have personal lactation experience and serve as a wealth of culturally-appropriate support for their community.
More details and resources can be found on the USLCA website, www.uslca.org