What is a lactation consultant?
Lactation Consultants are a vital part of the healthcare system. Together with your baby's doctor and your own obstetrician/gynecologist or general practitioner, they ensure that your's and your baby's care as a breastfeeding couple is complete. Lactation Consultants who carry the credentials, IBCLC, behind their names are specially trained and qualified to assist with every aspect of breastfeeding. The International Board Certified Lactation Consultant represents the "gold standard" in lactation consultant credentialing. Look for this credential when seeking the assistance of a lactation consultant in order to ensure the highest level of training, experience, and expertise.
What can a lactation consultant do for me?
Lactation consultants can assist you in preparation for breastfeeding before baby arrives through the time you or your baby choose to wean. Many times they serve as simply a source of information, encouragement, and reassurance that all is well. At other times, their in-depth knowledge and hands-on assistance may be necessary to address a particular problem or difficulty you may be having. The following are situations where you might find a lactation consultant's expertise especially helpful:
When it's necessary to review and assess a past less-than-desired breastfeeding experience and help you implement a plan to make better breastfeeding success more likely with your next baby.
When you begin breastfeeding and need hands-on help with your early attempts at latch and positioning.
When you are experiencing sore nipples, yeast infection of the nipple, or other nipple traumas.
When your breasts are engorged or you are dealing with plugged ducts or breast infections or when you are having breast pain of any kind while nursing.
When your baby won't latch on or is having trouble feeding due to any reason.
When you are concerned about your milk supply.
When you have been told to supplement and you wonder how this might affect breastfeeding.
When you are concerned that your baby is not getting enough or you are not sure how to tell.
When your baby is not gaining withing normal parameters or your doctor is concerned about your baby's growth.
When you are nursing multiples.
When your baby is born prematurely and you wish to provide him with the most superior form of nutrition for his special needs.
When you must begin a medication and you have questions about using it while nursing.
When you have been told that you have to wean for any reason and you are not ready to.
When you need direction on choosing a breastpump, pumping, or storing your milk safely.
When you need to return to work or school and need guidance on making this change work with continued breastfeeding.
When you are considering introducing solids to your baby and wonder how to integrate this with continued nursing.
When you have question about your baby's sleeping patterns and how they relate to breastfeeding.
When your baby gets teeth and you are concerned about how to continue nursing without pain.
When you have questions about your own health and how it relates to breastfeeding.
When you begin to think about weaning and how to do it safely and make it as easy on yourself and baby as possible.
This list could go on and on, but hopefully you get the idea!
Do lactation consultants charge for their services?
The answer to this question is most always, yes. Remember that lactation consultants are healthcare professionals who must maintain a certain level of training and expertise. This requires them to continually participate in continuing education experiences, purchase the most up-to-date professional texts, purchase malpractice insurance, and renew their certification at least every 5 years. Many lactation consultants are also self-employed or in private practice. While these type of lactation consultants many times are more readily available and able to practice without constraints which might limit their ability to practice freely, they also must self-support their practices.
Lactation Consultant fees vary, but the average rate in the United States is between $65-$80 an hour. This often includes follow-up telephone and/or follow-up visits at no extra charge, but is not guaranteed. Some lactation consultants provide home visits while others can only see you in their offices. Others provide services during the evening, on weekends, and on holidays.
Is is worth the money to hire a lactation consultant?
This is a question that only you can answer. But consider a few things. The average cost of formula in the powdered form - the least expensive - is now more than $1200 dollars a year. Of course, concentrated or ready-made formulas, as well as special hypoallergenic formulas required by some babies, are even more expensive. Research and and anecdotal experience show that formula-fed babies are much more likely to be ill and require medical care more often than their breastfeeding counterparts. Mothers who formula-feed tend to miss work more often due to having ill children than mothers who breastfeed, resulting in lost pay at times. Most breastfeeding challenges can be resolved with one or two visits with a lactation consultant. At the upper rate of $80 per hour, figuring 2 hours per two consults, your total investment in lactation consultant fees would still only be $320 at the upper end. Compare this to the cost of formula for a year, the potentially higher medical costs and possible lost days at work, and the lost benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby that no dollar amount can be placed upon! Many moms say that the simple peace of mind and self-confidence that a lactation consultant provides makes the consult well worth the money!
If the cost of hiring a lactation consultant is a concern for you, consider asking for a consult as a shower gift, or use the money from all those duplicate baby gifts you have to return and put it toward a visit with a lactation consultant.
Does insurance pay for a lactation consultant's services?
Unfortunately, most of the time it does not. However, lactation consultants can provide you with insurance codes to submit to your insurance company. These service/equipment- specific codes make it much more likely that your claim will be approved. Some lactation consultants will even provide you with insurance forms - super bills - to submit to your insurance provider while still others may even submit the claim for you. It is sometimes helpful to obtain a physician's letter or prescription for a lactation consultant services and/or breastfeeding equipment and submit this with your claim.
Where can I find a lactation consultant?
The Internation Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, the board which certifies lactation consultants with the credential of IBCLC, maintains a directory of currently-certified lactation consultants. You can access it by clicking here
Medela, Inc. also maintains a Breastfeeding National Network where you can obtain the names of practicing breastfeeding specialists in your area. You can reach that service by calling 1-800-TELL-YOU or by accessing Medela's website.
Breastfeeding.com maintains a listing of lactation consultants by state.
And finally, you might check in your local yellow pages under "breastfeeding" or contact your local hospital or doctor's office for a referral. Often friends or relatives who have previously breastfed will know the name of a good lactation consultant, too.
If you happen to live in the Northeast Tennesse, Southwest Virginia area, Becky Flora, IBCLC offers lactation consulting services through her business, Breastfeeding Essentials.