Breastfeeding is a normal, biological process for babies and moms. It is not a “condition” that requires medical training. Your doctor helps you with medical concerns. A lactation consultant will help you with breastfeeding. Lactation consultants may work in hospitals, clinics or may come to your home.
A lactation consultant is a skilled healthcare professional who specializes in the science of human lactation (breastfeeding), and in the assessment of breastfeeding women and their babies. Lactation consultants come from a variety of professional backgrounds. To ensure that a consultant has the minimum competencies recognized in the field, see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). “Breastfeeding specialists” or “lactation educators” have not met those minimum competencies.
A lactation consultant must be certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). IBLCE requires several hundred hours of hands-on experience and classroom education before a candidate is permitted to sit for the certifying exam. (When I certified I need to acquire 2500 hours) The exam is offered once a year all over the world. When certified, the lactation consultant must maintain her credential with continuing education and periodic exams.
The credential of IBCLC stands alone. That means that an IBCLC with a PhD is not necessarily better than an IBCLC with a bachelor’s degree. When selecting a lactation consultant, however, feel free to ask about her experience and qualifications! Since lactation consultants come from many different backgrounds, their experiences and expertise in certain areas will vary widely. It’s important to trust the person who will be helping you to begin your breastfeeding journey.
Your doula, midwife or doctor should be able to refer your to a lactation consultant in your area. It can also be helpful to talk to your friends and neighbors or childbirth educator. I would strongly recommend becoming familiar with some IBCLCs before you need help. You can visit websites or even make personal contact by phone or email so you will absolutely know who to call if you have challenges. Most lactation consultants will welcome the opportunity to talk with you prenatally.
See also: “Why do we Need Lactation Consultants?”