Breastfeeding Support: What is an IBCLC and How do I Find One?

I get messaged frequently with breastfeeding questions.  With the amount of research I did in the first year and the amount of questions I asked of Moms with much more experience than I, I have acquired a lot of knowledge about breastfeeding.  However, an experienced Mom does not replace the necessity and value of help from professionals.

Most Moms call or schedule an appointment with their pediatrician if they are having breastfeeding problems.  Or, at an appointment, the pediatrician will say, “your baby isn’t gaining enough weight,” and naturally Mom says, “what do I do to fix that?”

Unfortunately, pediatricians are not trained, educated, or specialized in breastfeeding as a part of their schooling to become a pediatrician.  Of course, there are exceptions to the rule…pediatricians who have gone above the “call of duty” and taken classes or become an LC or CLC.  But none of that compares to the extensive training and knowledge that an IBCLC has.  That is why whenever a Mom is having trouble, feeling like she’s not enough, or about to quit, I strongly urge them to see an IBCLC instead.

What is an IBCLC?

An IBCLC is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.  They are by far the true experts in breastfeeding.  There are currently 28, 105 IBCLC’s around the world, 15,144 of those in the United States alone.  “Certification is recognition that an individual has met eligibility requirements and has passed a rigorous exam that assesses knowledge in breastfeeding management.” (Source)  I have a friend who is at this moment a couple days away from her exam.  She has been studying regularly and taking practice exams for it for many months even though she has been involved in breastfeeding education for years.

What does an IBCLC do differently from a Pediatrician?

An IBCLC is trained to be able to accurately determine the source of your problems and struggles with breastfeeding your child.  There are some really cool things they know how to do that are all evidence based care.  They know how to determine exactly how much baby is getting in a feed, how to assess for suck strength and coordination, how to listen to hear how much milk is being transferred on sucks, how to assess for lip and tongue ties accurately (it’s much more than a glance in their mouth), how to troubleshoot babies who have a hard time latching, how to truly determine a low supply issue, how to help Moms keep their babies on breastmilk even if Mom truly does have a supply issue, and so much more.

It took a ton of demanding and a hospital transfer to get an IBCLC in the NICU with my babies and I.  The experience with the LC at the first hospital compared to the IBCLC in the second hospital was an immediate and obvious sign of the difference in education for me.  The LC at the hospital came into my room with no babies in it, asked me what problems I was having, and without accompanying me to the NICU to troubleshoot those problems handed me one (not two) breast shields and said, “here, use this.  But I wouldn’t get your hopes up.  They’re in the NICU and you probably won’t make it breastfeeding.”  And left.

When we transferred to a new hospital, I demanded to immediately see an IBCLC.  The IBCLC was basically waiting in the girls isolation room when we arrived.  Within 10 minutes she had me successfully tandem nursing BOTH babies.  Granted, we did end up using those shields because of flat/semi inverted nipples combined with lip/tongue ties…but they were latched…for the first time in their lives….with just 10 minutes of help from an IBCLC.

The next IBCLC I saw was actually a part of the WIC program.  Not every WIC program office has an IBCLC on staff.  But I specifically drove to that office to see her because I needed the expert guidance.  She assessed both girls for ties, watched me latch and feed the girls with the shield, watched me attempt to latch without the shield, helped me with positioning, encouraged me that I was doing a great job, wrote a recommendation that the girls be assessed for ties by a pediatric ENT, did weighted feeds to get an idea of how much the girls were taking in each feed, and gave me hope that one day it wouldn’t be so hard.

We saw her one additional time for another weighted feed (I believe after the ties were cut but I’m not positive…everything is so foggy back then) and to meet my husband and have him ask questions on how to support me with breastfeeding.  She also reassessed latch and positioning.

The only thing my pediatrician did for breastfeeding was argue with me that the girls didn’t have lip or tongue ties (they did), roll her eyes when I said I wanted to feed them both exclusively at the breast, and reprimand me for not knowing exactly how many nursing sessions they had or how many diapers they had (plenty and plenty).  The doctors at the NICU were the same and actually fed formula even though I specifically told them they weren’t allowed to because they believed formula was superior to breastmilk.

How do I find an IBCLC?

KellyMom does a great job at giving a wide variety of resources in this article.  My favorite is this search directory.  All you have to do is put in the state you’re in and it will pull up all of the IBCLC’s in the state!  This is a great tool if there are no IBCLC’s that work in your local WIC office or hospital.

 

At the end of the day, an IBCLC is a vital part of a healthy and successful nursing relationship.  Even at nearly two years postpartum, if I were to have a proper latch issue because of new teeth, injury, or something like that, I would absolutely seek out the help of an IBCLC first and foremost.

Have you ever worked with an IBCLC?  What was your experience?  Share with me in the comments!