What to Look for in a Breastfeeding Helper

Rhea Carithers, IBCLC at Madigan Army Medical Center, Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Used with permission.

In or out of the military, you and your baby deserve the best care when it comes to breastfeeding help.  This is never more important than when you are on active duty and have only a short amount of time to get breastfeeding up to speed before your return from convalescent leave.  There are many different levels of breastfeeding support available to you both on and off base.  It is important that you choose the right one for your situation.  Of the many “Breastfeeding Helpers” to choose from, each will have varying levels of expertise and training.  The different titles reflect the type of training she (or he) has received, however correct titles are often misused, making choosing the proper breastfeeding support helper very confusing and difficult. Here is a run-down of the most common breastfeeding helpers and what to look for and ask about when choosing who will help you breastfeed successfully. You can also download the USLCA handout “Who’s Who in Lactation” or the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition handout “The Landscape of Breastfeeding Support”  for a detailed explanation of the differences.


IBCLC. International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. This is the gold standard of breastfeeding care. An IBCLC, also known as a lactation consultant, is a professional who has received the highest level of education and training and possesses the knowledge and skill to help mothers with even the most difficult breastfeeding situations.  To use the letters IBCLC after their name, she/he must pass a rigorous international credentialing exam.  To be eligible to sit for the exam she/he must have extensive education (usually a four-year degree) and many years of experience working with breastfeeding mothers.  To retain the IBCLC credential, she/he must attend conferences and earn continuing education credits.  Lactation consultants can also be doctors, nurses, midwives, dieticians, or speech therapists and they work in hospitals, clinics, or in private practice.  IBCLCs often have an area of expertise (such a working mothers or cleft palate babies), so you should look around for one that fits your needs.  Some IBCLCs specialize in the needs of military mothers, so be sure to ask.  Generally lactation consultants charge for their services (TRICARE does not cover lactation consultations), but often do provide discounts or reduced fees to active duty military mothers.  Visit www.ilca.org to find a lactation consultant near you.


Lactation Educator/Counselor/Specialist. Also known as a CLC or CLE this individual has generally taken one or more short-term breastfeeding courses and may have received a local or national certification.  She/he is capable of teaching mothers about breastfeeding and helping with normal problems, but may or may not have the experience or expertise to help with difficult breastfeeding problems.  They generally work in hospitals and clinics and may also be nurses, dieticians or other allied health care workers.


La Leche League Leader. This individual is a mother who started out as a La Leche League member and has successfully breastfed for at least 9 months and completed a lengthy accreditation process with extensive coursework to become a La Leche League Leader.  LLL Leaders are volunteers who provide peer support by facilitating monthly support group meetings and offer breastfeeding counseling via telephone and e-mail support.  Some Leaders also offer home visits.  All Leaders are covered by liability insurance when working with mothers. La Leche League Groups are available near military installations worldwide, and Leaders are often savvy about the needs of military members, visit www.llli.org to find a Group or Leader near you.  Often, when stationed overseas LLL meetings provide a nice reminder of life in the States!



Breastfeeding USA Counselor. Breastfeeding USA Counselors are experienced breastfeeding mothers who have been accredited following completion of a comprehensive breastfeeding education program. They provide information and support to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers in both one-on-one and group situations and are covered by liability insurance. Lactation experts with specialized resources are available to assist with unusual breastfeeding situations. Breastfeeding USA has new Chapters forming all the time within the United States, visit www.breastfeedingusa.org for more information.



WIC Peer Counselor. Peer Counselors are mothers who are or have been on the WIC Program and have successfully breastfed their infants.  They receive extensive training and provide peer counseling and teaching to new moms and can often help with normal breastfeeding problems.  WIC Peer Counselors generally work in WIC offices, although a few will do home or hospital visits.  There are WIC offices on or near bases worldwide.  Many have pumps available to working moms as well.


Military Medics and Corpsman. Military medics and corpsman, along with their officer counterparts, doctors and nurses, have little to no training in breastfeeding matters.  Doctors, midwives and nurses may have some training beyond what they learned in medical or nursing school, but only if they search it out on their own. Very few are certified at even the most basic level of a CLC.  Medics and Corpsman have even less knowledge of breastfeeding and breastfeeding problems as that is simply not part of their curriculum or training.  Again, unless they have sought out breastfeeding courses or become a LLL Leader on their own time it is unlikely that they have any breastfeeding knowledge.  Don’t rely on the military medical system to provide breastfeeding support!

No matter whom you chose to help you with your breastfeeding, if you are not comfortable, or your situation does not improve within a few days, seek out another more knowledgeable expert.  Here is a short checklist of questions to ask of any potential breastfeeding helper so you can better determine if she will be able to assist you properly with your situation.

  • What are your qualifications?
  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Do you attend breastfeeding conferences and maintain your continuing education credits for recertification?
  • What kind of experience do you have (hospital, private practice, newborns, older babies)?
  • Do you refer out when the problem is beyond your scope of practice?
  • Did you nurse your own children?
  • Do you have an area of expertise?
  • Do you follow the WHO recommendations for weaning (2 years)?
  • What are your hours?
  • Do you offer home visits, can/will you come on base?
  • Can mothers bring support people to the consultation?
  • How long do consults generally last?
  • Do you take a complete history and offer a written care plan?
  • Do you offer follow-up visits or telephone support?
  • How much do you charge?
  • Do you offer special packages or a military discount?

Who did you see for breastfeeding help after your baby was born?  Were their services helpful?  DO you have a good story to share?  Leave a comment below!  


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