Having the proper breastfeeding helper when things get rough can mean the difference between success and failure. There is an alphabet soup of breastfeeding helpers out there and navigating who is who can be tough. You and your baby deserve the best care when it comes to breastfeeding help. There are many different levels of breastfeeding support available to you as a consumer. 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 breakdown of the most common breastfeeding helpers you might encounter and what their expertise, training and certification covers. You can also download the USLCA handout “Who’s Who in Lactation” 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. Generally lactation consultants charge for their services (TRICARE does not cover lactation consultations). Visit www.ilca.org to find a lactation consultant near you.
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. Visit www.llli.org to find a Group or Leader near you.
Breastfeeding 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. Lactation experts with specialized resources are available to assist with unusual breastfeeding situations. BreastfeedingUSA has new Chapters forming all the time, however they are located only within the United States at this time, 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.
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)?
- 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?