Highlights | Breastfeeding takes practice
- Lactation consultants help new parents learn how to breastfeed.
- They go through rigorous training and develop detailed personal plans for patients.
- The consultants help troubleshoot breastfeeding issues.
World Breastfeeding Week is Aug. 1-7. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, and new parents don’t have to struggle to figure things out on their own. Lactation consultants provide education and support for breastfeeding parents.
“At UW Medicine, we provide lactation support, education and individualized consultations for parents and families throughout the perinatal experience, from pregnancy and birth to post-birth and weaning,” says Barbara Lautman, RN, a certified lactation consultant at UW Medical Center – Montlake.
Services lactation consultants provide
To become a certified lactation consultant, you must complete 95 or more hours of education, gain hundreds of hours of clinical experience, complete one of three pathway programs and pass the certification exam offered by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.
Once you’ve passed the exam, the real work begins. Lactation consultants have to be up-to-date on best practices and procedures to provide the best care. Here’s what the multistep process of consulting with a patient looks like:
- Getting a thorough medical history of the patient, including their pregnancy, labor and birth experiences
- Doing a breast examination
- Identifying any potential barriers to breastfeeding or medical conditions on part of the parent or child that may impact breastfeeding
- Sharing strategies to encourage successful breastfeeding
- Educating on infant breastfeeding behaviors
- Developing an individualized breastfeeding plan
- Providing support for any issues that come up
“I find great fulfillment in meeting parents where they are, hearing from them what their needs, concerns and hopes are for infant feeding, and helping them find confidence and pleasure in taking great care of their baby,” Lautman says.
Helping patients work through breastfeeding issues
“One point I always share with new parents is that breastfeeding is a learned motor skill, both for parent and baby, and it takes some practice,” says Nancy Estill, RN, a certified lactation consultant at UW Medical Center – Montlake. “New parents are learning so much during a time of great joy, falling in love, sleep deprivation and recovering from birth.”
According to Lautman, some of the most common issues she helps troubleshoot are:
- Providing correct information about the lactation process
- How to breastfeed when the parent or infant has a medical condition
- How to breastfeed when the infant is born premature and/or in the NICU
- Answering questions about medications
- Providing support when difficulties arise during breastfeeding, such as difficulty latching, breast or nipple pain and milk production issues
- Educating on how to pump and how to wean off breastmilk
- How and when to use formula if necessary
Lactation consultants don’t just work with patients, but also with nurses, doctors and other providers to help them navigate difficult feeding situations with their patients.
The job is rewarding not just because they get to help patients learn new skills, but the consultants are also learning themselves.
“I feel honored to be a part of each family’s welcoming of a new baby. Seeing the parents grow in confidence as they start to figure out their little one makes my day and has for the 24 years I have been a lactation nurse,” Estill says. “I have the privilege of teaching parents how to feed and care for their baby, how to discern what their baby is telling them and then suggest ways that may meet the baby’s needs.”
A lactation consultant’s top breastfeeding tip
“Trust your body. Most pregnant people can make milk and feed their baby, but if there is trouble, get help early,” Lautman says. “Gather and involve your helping people, the ones who can support your feeding plan. They can be companions on the journey with you, navigate difficulties with you, and celebrate the joys with you.”