What is a lactation consultant?
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) are healthcare professionals with extensive experience and in depth knowledge in supporting breastfeeding mothers. Qualification is via a 6 hour degree level examination and to enter the exam practitioners must have completed a set number of breastfeeding counselling hours over a set period. In my case I had to demonstrate that I had spent 2500 hours supporting breastfeeding mothers before I was eligible. LCs are required to prove they have kept up to date every 5 years and to resit the exam every 10 years. They come from a variety of backgrounds in medicine, nursing, midwifery and breastfeeding counselling. Most are women. But a few are men as there is no requirement to have breastfed yourself in order to be an LC.
The exam includes the following areas related to lactation: anatomy and physiology, endocrinology, biochemistry, nutrition, immunology and infectious disease, pathology, pharmacology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, research and ethics.
Lactation Consultants have specialist skills to support mothers and babies with the more complex issues such as prematurity, twins and multiples, sick babies and those with special needs, poor weight gain and low milk supply, sucking problems, tongue-tie and cleft palate.
Some LCs work within the NHS and voluntary sector. Many work privately as I do.
Who else can help with breastfeeding?
- Breastfeeding Counsellors
BFCs train and work with the voluntary organisations that support breastfeeding – The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM), Breastfeeding Network (BfN), La Leche League (LLL) and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT).
All BFCs are mothers and have breastfed their own babies. They undertake a training programme which covers all aspects of breastfeeding and counselling skills and involves well in access of 100 hours of study, although requirements and how the courses are taught vary between the organizations.
BFCs run the national breastfeeding help lines and work within support groups. Some offer home visiting. But, as the role is voluntary this is usually limited. BFCs are experts in normal breastfeeding and the common challenges mothers may encounter.
- Breastfeeding Peer Supporters
These are mothers who have breastfed their own babies and have undertaken a basic course in breastfeeding usually for about 16 hour’s duration. The training may be provided by ABM, BfN, LLL or NCT or maybe through an NHS/Public Health/County Council or independent programme. The role of peer supporters is to encourage mothers to breastfeed, provide information, recognise what is normal and what is not and to sign post mothers who are having difficulties to sources of more expert help. They usually work voluntarily in support groups. Although in some parts of the country they also do home visiting and may work in a paid capacity.
- Health Visitors and Midwives
The amount of training, knowledge and experience in breastfeeding varies enormously amongst midwives and health visitors. Most MWs and HVS are required to do a two day course on basic breastfeeding management, similar in content to breastfeeding peer supporter training, and then they may be offered short annual updates. Some HVs and MWs are also qualified BFCs or LCs. But, these account for a very small number. Most MWs and HVs are keen for mothers to succeed with breastfeeding and will be able to provide you with local information on support groups and where you can access more expert help if needed.