What Is a Lactation Consultant?

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 27, 2022
4 min read

Breastfeeding isn’t always an easy experience. Your nipples can end up feeling painful or sore. You may wonder if you’re producing enough milk for the baby. If you’re a first-time mother, you may be learning how best to hold your baby. It’s normal to want support and education.

The good news is that help is on hand for all types of breastfeeding questions and issues. Here’s what you need to know about lactation consultants and how they can support you.

A lactation consultant is a health professional who specializes in breastfeeding. They can:

  • Answer any questions you have about breastfeeding 
  • Teach you how to breastfeed correctly
  • Help you manage any problems you have with breastfeeding. Typically, women reach out to lactation consultants for help with painful nipples, milk supply, and making sure the baby is feeding correctly.

You need not wait until your baby is born to talk to a lactation consultant. You can reach out during pregnancy to help you prepare for breastfeeding.

A lactation consultant goes through dedicated training to offer education and support on breastfeeding. But you can also get breastfeeding and lactation assistance from many other sources:

  • Talk to a friend or family member who has breastfed. They may be able to give you advice and tips that can help.
  • Nurses, midwives, and physicians who support you during delivery can also offer support with breastfeeding.
  • Your pediatrician can look for any conditions that might keep your newborn from sucking milk properly. Pediatricians may also refer you to specialists for lactation support.
  • Check with the hospital where you delivered your baby for assistance. They may have personal educators, classes that you can take, or even a breastfeeding hotline you can use.
  • Make use of the government’s support services. Call the National Women’s Health and Breastfeeding Helpline at 1-800-994-9662. The service is available on weekdays, Monday to Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. You can also take classes or book consultations through your local WIC office. WIC is the short way of referring to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. Also, check with your local public health department for resources you can use.

Lactation consultants can teach you how to breastfeed, provide information and emotional support, and help you manage breastfeeding problems.

  • Learning breastfeeding. If you’ve never breastfed before, a lactation consultant can get you started. They can help you find the best position to hold your baby for breastfeeding. They can also suggest ways to make you feel more physically comfortable during a feed.

Lactation consultants can help you make sure your baby’s mouth is positioned on your breast correctly. If your baby doesn’t latch on well, they won’t get enough milk. How to know if your baby is hungry and how long to nurse at each breast are matters you can discuss with your consultant.

Your lactation consultant can also teach you how to know if your baby is getting enough milk and is gaining weight. Weight gain is a sign that the baby is feeding well.

  • Support with breast pumps. Sometimes you may need a breast pump to help you express your milk. Expressing milk is squeezing it out from your breast to store and give to your baby later. You may need to express milk if your baby is in special care in the hospital or if you’re going back to work.

Your lactation consultant can teach you how to use the pump. They’ll also check to see if the pump fits your breast correctly. An improperly fitted pump may not pump out enough milk.

Lactation support. Your lactation consultant can teach you how to increase or keep up your milk supply. You can also work with them to create a personalized feeding schedule for you and your baby.

Troubleshooting problems. Lactation consultants can also offer support with issues like swollen breasts and painful or cracked nipples. They can advise if your baby doesn’t want to feed from the breast. If you’re not up to breastfeeding, you can also talk to your lactation consultant to understand your options.

There isn’t any form of standardized lactation consultant training. That means consultants can provide different levels of support depending on how much training they have.

  • IBLCE certified lactation consultants. Sometimes you’ll see an IBLCE or RLC written after the lactation consultant’s name. This means that they’ve been certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). 

These specialist consultants have met advanced educational and training requirements and passed a demanding exam to get the certification. They also must update their knowledge every year and retake their certification exams every five years. The IBLCE certification is a recognized certification that you can look for when you want someone to diagnose and treat health issues related to breastfeeding. 

  • Lactation educators or counselors. You can also find lactation consultants who have more limited training. They usually provide education and support and don’t diagnose or treat health-related problems. They may refer you to a qualified lactation specialist instead.

Some lactation consultants work in hospitals and clinics, while others have their own practices. You can ask for referrals from your physician or pediatrician.

You can even look through the IBLCE website for a list of lactation consultants near you. Some insurance companies provide coverage for lactation consultancy in their insurance plans, so check to see if you’re covered beforehand. 

Breastfeeding your baby doesn’t have to be hard. Talking to a lactation consultant can help you get over challenges. They can also be a great source of physical and emotional support. Having help on hand can let you fully enjoy the breastfeeding experience and focus more on building that precious bond with your baby.