A lot of things can come between you and your breastfeeding plan: an erratic schedule, lips that won’t latch, and chaffed nipples, to name a few. Enlisting the help of a lactation consultant, though, can seriously up your odds of hitting your breast-to-baby goals, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health.
Related: Let’s Talk About Breastfeeding
In two separate trials, researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University followed a total of 941 women for six months after giving birth, and found that those who regularly received breastfeeding instructions and support from a lactation consultant were about four times more likely to exclusively breastfeed their infant at one month and nearly three times more likely to do so at three months, as compared to women who didn't receive any support.
“Lactation consultants are the most highly trained professionals for lactation support, able to provide both routine education and handle complex situations,” says Karen Bonuck, PhD, professor of Family and Social Medicine and Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women's Health at Yeshiva University, and lead author of the study.
But what are lactation consultants, exactly? And where do you find one? Here, Amber McCann, IBCLC, certified lactation consultant of the Breastfeeding Center of Pittsburgh, shares the five things you need to know about LCs now.
1. Enlisting their help doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong
Most moms and babies encounter a few hiccups in the early days of feeding, and that’s completely normal, says McCann. And even if things come off without a hitch, it never hurts to get guidance on how often to feed baby, when and how to pump, the best feeding positions, and so on.
2. They won’t force you to breastfeed
“We aren't in the business of making you reach our goals; we want to help you feed your baby in a way that works for you and your family,” says McCann. “Everyone is unique and different. What is right for one family isn't right for the next.”
3. It’s best to find an LC before baby comes
“When breastfeeding isn’t quite going as you had hoped, you won't want to be desperately searching for someone who can help,” says McCann. Before baby comes, ask your friends, OB/GYN, or pediatrician for a recommendation, or search the International Lactation Consultant Association directory to find the right one for you.
4. They can help at the hospital
While most hospitals staff their own lactation consultants, if you’d prefer to work with your own from day one, he or she can come into the hospital to help. Want to meet at your home, doctor’s office, or just chat over the phone? They do that, too.
5. Your insurance might cover their services
Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers need to cover professional lactation support. What that includes, however, is left open to insurance companies’ interpretation. McCann recommends asking your potential consultant about her billing and insurance status and verifying everything with your insurance company. Some private practice consultants charge a set fee (typically about $70 per visit), others charge a co-pay, and some organizations even provide services free of charge.