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Your source for a journey through motherhood.
Breastfeeding is a journey with each baby. Whether you are a new or veteran breastfeeder, each baby (and each breastfeeding relationship) is unique.
About 70 percent of mothers experience breastfeeding difficulties, mostly during the first month1. The good news is that many breastfeeding issues are pretty straightforward. But because many are time-sensitive, and you may feel unsure about what you might even need to address, it’s important to quickly reach out for lactation support.
Here’s what to know about the various types of breastfeeding support you can get—and how to maximize it to keep you and your baby healthy and comfortable.
OB-GYNs focus on your health, pediatricians focus on your baby’s health, and family medicine doctors can do both. While many of these physicians diagnose and prescribe antibiotics for conditions such as mastitis or thrush, none of them specialize in breastfeeding. For issues with latch, engorgement, and other common breastfeeding challenges, they often either incorporate lactation consultants into their practice or refer patients to them.
You can start working with lactation consultants (IBCLCs or CLCs), which specialize in all things related to breastfeeding, while pregnant to develop a feeding plan. Once your baby arrives, they can help you establish your supply and routine by working with you on your positioning and helping you troubleshoot latch challenges (including tongue ties and inverted nipples). They can help you cope with related breast issues such as milk blisters or plugged ducts. Most insurance plans today cover some visits with a lactation consultant.
Postpartum doulas, partners, caretakers, and friends are also a crucial part of your lactation support team. They can help you implement your feeding plan at home and help take care of you (like rubbing your feet, or watching the baby while you shower or nap!), your household (like doing laundry and prepping meals), and your family (like picking your toddler up from preschool).
Ideally, you’ll begin assembling your care team during your pregnancy. Between prenatal visits to your OB-GYN or midwife, try to interview both pediatricians and lactation consultants to find good fits before your baby arrives.
The first 24 to 48 hours postpartum are a great time to get as much help as possible from the specialists taking care of you. A provider supporting the birth of your child typically examines your newborn’s mouth to check for potential issues such as a lip tie, and, as you begin breastfeeding, also will take a look at your latch. If you haven’t lined up a lactation consultant, most hospitals and birthing centers have one on staff to help you and your baby get off to a good start with breastfeeding. Even if you aren't having issues, have the hospital lactation consultant evaluate your baby's latch to encourage proper feeding practices from the start.
During your own postpartum appointments (typically at weeks two and six) and your baby’s first checkups with their pediatrician, you can bring up anything that might be on your mind related to breastfeeding. This can include pain, long feeds that go beyond 45 minutes, and questions around your supply. In some cases, these specialists can help; in others, they may refer you to a lactation consultant.
Breastfeeding can change day to day, especially in the first six weeks. If something doesn’t seem right, the sooner you get help, the better. Also bear in mind that you don’t need to have a problem (or even think that you have one) to get support. You can schedule time to simply ask questions or get reassurances.
The highest-credentialed professional to help support your lactation needs is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC); other great options include a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) or Certified Lactation Educator (CLE). Whoever you work with, this will be your primary specialist to help you address all your lactation needs.
While you can search on your own for lactation specialists in your area, your own providers will likely have consultants they can refer you to—and some providers have lactation consultants on staff. You can also use online resources that offer easy-to-schedule televisits, such as SimpliFed. (With lactation support, time is often of the essence.)
It’s worth noting that you may also want to reach out to a growing network of supporters focused on reducing racism and bias while uniting communities of color, in health care generally and in birth and in lactation support specifically, including The Bridge Directory, Irth, Chocolate Milk Cafe, and Health in Her HUE.
People who work with lactation consultants typically have better breastfeeding outcomes, including breastfeeding longer and more easily improving their milk supply2. A lactation consultant is likely to help make your breastfeeding journey smoother, more comfortable, and less stressful.
While it’s not always easy, breastfeeding can be a joyful experience, so do your best to prioritize your own health and happiness by getting the support you need.
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