You probably never imagined that you would be looking for a lactation consultant. Until the day comes when you are either expecting a baby, or you had a baby and you are looking for guidance with feeding. So, where do you start? Where’s the best place to find a lactation consultant? You can ask your doctor or midwife who they recommend, sometimes they know a good lactation consultant who has helped other patients in the practice. You can ask your pediatrician; they should have names to refer you to as well. You can ask your other mom friends, or (gasp) post something on social media and see who is voted the best LC among your friends. You can google Lactation Consultant (and the name of your town) and see what comes up. Your doula may have a lactation consultant that they trust with the families they work with. Regardless of how you find your LC, there are a few things you definitely want to know before you hire her (or him). LC’s are just like any other service – no 2 are the same. Make sure to find the one that’s right for you. Here are a few guidelines when looking for the right LC.
If you are hiring a lactation consultant, make sure they are credentialed by IBLCE, or the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. Once they pass this exam, they will use the credential IBCLC, or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. Only someone with these credentials can call themselves a lactation consultant. Before qualifying to sit for the board exam, a candidate has to comply with certain educational guidelines, including specific college courses, 90 hours of lactation specific education and hundreds of clinical hours. Once this is completed, they will need to pass a board exam (a really hard board exam). There are also wonderful lactation support people who go by CLC or CLE. CLC is a certified lactation counselor and a CLE is a certified lactation educator. Both of these are great titles, and anyone who holds these certifications are obviously very dedicated to helping breastfeeding families. However, the education difference between these certifications and an IBCLC is unparalleled. That’s not saying someone who has a CLC or a CLE won’t be helpful, or won’t be supportive, but they do not get the same clinical experience and they have limited breastfeeding education compared to the IBCLC. Many who have a CLC or CLE go on to become an IBCLC, using their initial certifications as a steppingstone to board certification. I have found that many people do not realize that there is a difference between an IBCLC and a CLC, and they often consider them the same thing. Find out the credentials of the person you hire.
You definitely want a lactation consultant who is experienced. Ask where they received their training, how long they trained before sitting for the exam, who they trained with. Ask how long they have been certified. Do they have a specialty? Often, lactation consultants working in private practice got their start somewhere. Have they had experience with babies of all ages? What’s their background? Maybe it’s a lactation consultant who worked in a hospital for several years, only exposed to healthy newborn babies. Can she help you with your 8 week old baby who is suddenly having latch problems? What if it’s a lactation consultant who has only been certified for a few months. How much experience does she have working with a 10 day old baby who isn’t gaining weight? It’s ok to ask the questions to make sure the person you are working with is a good fit for what’s happening between you and your baby.
As I mentioned, it takes quite a bit of education to work towards board certification. When you’re looking for an IBCLC, it’s ok to ask about education. Do they have a background in nursing or social work or nutrition? Sometimes, becoming an IBCLC was in addition to a different field of work. How do they keep up with the most current research and lactation education? Do they have a specialty within lactation that they have a specific interest in? For example, they specialize in latch problems, tongue tie, returning to work, pumping, premature babies, trauma…the person you are looking for might have more education in one area over another. Feel free to ask if they are comfortable guiding you through your specific problem area.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is a pretty strong approach to finding a lactation consultant. After all, maybe you also found your hairdresser, babysitter, doctor or plumber because they were recommended by a friend. There is nothing better than getting a name from someone you trust and getting all the information about them. Your friend can tell you how much they charge, how long it took to get an appointment, if they found the consultation helpful, if they had an overall positive experience, among other things. Getting a name from your doctor or midwife is also good, but it’s likely that they do not personally know them, it’s just someone their office uses. Kind of the same idea with social media; you might not know the people who are giving you their opinion on who to call, so it’s still kind of a blind referral.
Active in the Community
Of course, being active in the community isn’t necessary, but it’s likely that if the person you are hiring is also involved in other things, they may be more well-rounded and respected. For example, are they part of the local breastfeeding coalition, LaLecheLeague, facilitate a breastfeeding support group, help out with parent groups, teach classes…the possibilities are endless. You may be looking for someone who is active in many areas of the profession. It has been my experience that when someone is more active in the community, they have more connections and suggestions if you need to be referred to another professional. For example, imagine you are building a house. Don’t you want your contractor to refer you to the best plumber, electrician and landscaper? Absolutely. You want your lactation consultant to know who the best pediatricians, chiropractors, dietitians, feeding therapists and doulas are, and you want your LC to have a good relationship with all of them.
So, go out there and find yourself the BEST lactation consultant that you can call on for all your breastfeeding questions. If they are really good, you will call on them for more than just breastfeeding questions. Don’t you want someone like that in your corner? And believe me, whatever the cost – it’s an amazing deal.