By Ali Weatherford

Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, but it’s very unlikely that you’ll ever need to see a doctor for anything related to lactation. That’s good news! You might need some help with breastfeeding though. Most people do. The best resource for support related to breastfeeding is a lactation consultant.

What kind of lactation consultant?

There are a lot of different people you can see when you need support for breastfeeding. Most of the time, a peer counselor or any professional trained in lactation care can help you understand breastfeeding better and help you with some basic set up and troubleshooting. When you need a higher level of support, an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) would be the best option. These professionals receive extensive education and training in the clinical management of lactation. You can see them for basic information and education, but also for issues that require more in-depth knowledge. Remember that care from an IBCLC is most often covered by insurance!

How do they help?

An IBCLC can help diagnose and treat issues related to breastfeeding. This can include all of these more common conditions and problems:

  • Improper latch for the baby
  • Problems with positioning
  • Structural problems in the mouth or head and face for the baby
  • Weak or insufficient suction from the baby
  • Structural issues with the breast or nipple
  • Insufficient milk supply
  • Oversupply of milk
  • Blocked milk ducts or mastitis
  • And more…

An IBCLC is trained to recognize problems and help you do something about them. They may offer advice including:

  • Better breastfeeding positions
  • How to help the baby get a better latch
  • How to help the baby gain strength and coordination
  • Hand expression
  • How to use a pump
  • Pumping strategies and techniques
  • Choosing bottles
  • Bottle feeding strategies
  • Modifications in lifestyle and nutrition
  • Determining whether certain medications are safe to take while breastfeeding
  • The use of other breastfeeding tools such as a nipple shield
  • Modifying or upgrading your pump
  • And more…..

IBCLCs Communicate and Refer

When an IBCLC encounters a problem outside of their scope of practice, they should be able to identify it and coordinate care with a doctor or other provider. Many IBCLCs communicate with pediatricians and other care providers so that you receive the most complete and appropriate care possible. For example, if you visit with your IBCLC because you have a painful red area on your breast, they will be able to determine if you have mastitis or a clogged duct and offer treatment options.

In some cases, mastitis needs to be treated with prescription medication in addition to the prevention and treatment options offered by an IBCLC. In that case, they would be able to make the diagnosis and then send you to a doctor for medication.

If you visit with your IBCLC because you are having a lot of nipple pain and your baby is not gaining enough weight, they might discover that your baby has a structural problem called a tongue tie. They may be able to offer some latch and position modifications in some cases. If the tongue tie is severe, they may instead refer you to a specialist to have it fixed.

A lactation consultant should most often be your first stop if you’re having any issues related to breastfeeding. An IBCLC is the specialist to see if the issue is more than just the basic adjustments needed when someone is breastfeeding for the first time. Most of the time an IBCLC can find solutions, but if not, they will definitely be able to point you in the right direction.

If you or your baby seem very sick, it’s best to see a doctor right away, even if you suspect it could have something to do with breastfeeding. For example, mastitis can sometimes become a serious infection, and you would want to get treatment with antibiotics quickly. If you feel very sick like you have the flu, have a fever over 101 and are not getting better, it’s best to see your doctor without waiting for an appointment with an IBCLC. You can always do that later so that you can understand the causes of the mastitis and ways to prevent it from happening again in the future.

And if you have questions about who you should see, you can call Breastfeeding Success 24/7 for support and questions at 512-808-0237.

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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