What is a Lactation Consultant and What Do They Do?

Lactation consultant helping a newborn latch

What is a Lactation Consultant and What Do They Do?

The journey of motherhood is one of the most rewarding, but it’s not without its challenges. 

Amidst the sleepless nights and endless diaper changes, there’s a particular aspect of nurturing your little one that can bring both joy and frustration: breastfeeding. It’s a path often filled with questions, concerns, and sometimes tears, but remember, you’re never alone.  

A lactation consultant can be your greatest resource and a trusted supporter during this process. Their expertise can help turn stressful feeding sessions into bonding moments between you and your little one. 

Whether you’re a first-time mom or an experienced one, whether you’re struggling with latch issues, milk supply concerns, or simply seeking some advice and reassurance, this blog is here to introduce you to the world of lactation consultants and uncover what they do to support you on your breastfeeding journey. 

Everything You Need to Know About Lactation Consultants 

The demand for lactation consultants has grown significantly in the past decade. As shown by the positive job outlook and increase in this position across the country. But what exactly do these specialists do? When might you need one, and, more importantly, how do you find a lactation consultant? 

We’re here to answer all your burning questions about this profession so you can make the best decision for your needs as a new mother. 

What is a Lactation Consultant? 

The experts at Indeed explain that a lactation consultant is a certified healthcare professional who specializes in breastfeeding. Also known as lactation specialists, they often help new parents get comfortable with the breastfeeding process to ensure baby can get the nutrients they need to thrive. 

What is a Certified Lactation Consultant? 

You may see lactation consultants go by different titles. Childbirth International explains that there are a few different designations

  • CBC=Certified Breastfeeding Counselor 
  • BFC=Breastfeeding Counselor 
  • CLC=Certified Lactation Counselor 
  • LC=Lactation Counselor 
  • CLE=Certified Lactation Educator 
  • IBCLC=International Board Certified Lactation Consultant 

All these individuals can help families with breastfeeding, however, their knowledge and qualifications may differ. For instance, individuals can only use the IBCLC designation if they have met the requirements laid out by the International Board of Lactation Certification Examiners (IBLCE). 

IBCLCs are often considered to be the best in the industry because they’re required to complete a rigorous exam, 1,000 hours of lactation-specific clinical experience, and 90 hours of breastfeeding education. Continuing education is also emphasized and these consultants must undergo recertification every five years. 

Whether you choose a certified lactation counselor (CLC), International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), or other lactation specialist is often up to your preferences and who is available in your area. 

What Does a Lactation Consultant Do? 

Essentially, lactation consultants of any designation can help parents and newborns with breastfeeding. There’s a common misconception that breastfeeding comes naturally, but this is rarely the case. 

Many mothers (not just new moms) may experience difficulty with latching, positioning, milk supply, or just overall discomfort with breastfeeding. These specialists also provide more than simply physical help. They also provide encouragement and education to new parents and can be integral to their support network.  

Remember, a lactation consultant cannot provide a diagnosis or treat health-related problems. If you or baby are experiencing medical issues, it is important to meet with a medical health professional. 

When Do You Need a Lactation Consultant? 

There are many reasons why a new parent may require assistance from a lactation consultant.  

Here are a few of the most common breastfeeding problems they can help with: 

  • Low milk supply 
  • Breast engorgement 
  • Plugged ducts 
  • Sore nipples 
  • Struggle with nursing positions 
  • Latching issues 
  • Baby is refusing the breast 
  • Baby isn’t gaining weight 
  • Assistance with pumping  

While lactation consultants are often the most helpful in navigating breastfeeding challenges during the first few weeks of a newborn’s life, their expertise is also helpful as your little one grows. They can help you learn how to use a breast pump and transition from breastfeeding to bottle feeding. 

How Much is a Lactation Consultant? 

Lactation consultant using a fake breast for education

Ultimately, it depends.  

The Cleveland Clinic emphasizes that the cost of seeing a lactation consultant varies depending on where you live, what services you need, and what kind of insurance you have. While some hospitals may include a visit from a lactation consultant as part of your hospital stay, other mothers may require additional support in the following weeks. 

By some estimates, the average at-home lactation consultation can last upwards of 90 minutes and cost anywhere from $150-$300 an hour (without insurance). 

Are Lactation Consultants Covered by Insurance? 

The good news is that lactation consultants may be covered by your insurance!  

The Lactation Network explains that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that health insurance plans cover breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding.  

That being said, the actual coverage varies by the insurance company and the type of plan you have.  

How to Get a Lactation Consultant 

There are many different ways to find a lactation consultant if you need their services. Many of these lactation professionals work with hospitals, birthing centers, and pediatricians to provide their services to new parents. In these instances, they can visit you after baby is born or at your initial post-natal checkups. 

It is becoming more common for lactation consultants to have their own practices as well. You can visit their business or they may offer in-home appointments for added convenience.  

When it comes to getting a lactation consultant, the internet can be a great resource. The ILBCE website can help you find a consultant in your area. This is great if you’re seeking an ILBCE-certified consultant in the United States. Before choosing a consultant, ensure they offer the services you need and contact your insurance beforehand to see if they’re covered. 

Breastfeeding is a highly personalized journey. A lactation consultant can help new parents navigate the ups and downs during this season of life, offering practical advice and emotional support that can make this time so much easier. 

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