What Can an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Do for You?

If you’re hoping to breastfeed your baby, it’s possible you’ll need help. While some pediatricians, OBs, midwives, and nurses are excellent at offering breastfeeding help and support, the absolutely best person to help is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or IBCLC. In this blog post, we’ll talk about what this certification means, as well as how an IBCLC can help you feed your baby.

IBCLCs are professionals who’ve had extensive formal and practical training in breastfeeding. There are three training pathways, but all of them include at least 95 hours of lactation-specific education and up to 1000 hours of practical clinical lactation training. The IBCLC certification is also recognized internationally, meaning there’s a chance you can find an IBCLC to help you with breastfeeding anywhere in the world. IBCLCs work in private practice, hospitals, doctors’ offices, clinics, birth centers, and in public health departments.

Many in the United States accept insurance or prepare a bill that you can use to file out of network with your insurance so that you can be reimbursed. While individualized lactation support can be expensive, many IBCLCs can help you figure out your breastfeeding relationship in just a handful of sessions, meaning you won’t necessarily have to continue to see an IBCLC and pay.

What it’s like to see an IBCLC in the hospital

When you work with an IBCLC in the hospital or birth center shortly after your baby is born, the IBCLC will be one of many people you see in a day. Likely the pediatrician and obstetrician or midwife will visit you, and your nurse will be in your room a lot to check your postpartum bleeding and help you with baby’s care, if they are rooming in with you. Many nurses have excellent knowledge and skills about breastfeeding, but if you want to breastfeed, you should ask to be seen by an IBCLC.

If your baby has just been born, it’s not likely that you’ll have much milk aside from colostrum, a clear, yellowish fluid that’s present in much lower volumes than breastmilk eventually will be. Nevertheless, if you have access to an IBCLC in the hospital, it’s a good idea to take advantage of their expertise. They can help you with positioning, evaluate baby’s latch and give pointers for improvement, and help you think through what to expect. When you’re a new parent, it can be overwhelming to face all of the things that you have to do to care for your baby, but a good IBCLC will help you separate out what is important and what isn’t about feeding your baby in the early days.

And if you don’t want to breastfeed or can’t for some reason (yours or baby’s) but you’d like to give baby pumped milk, your IBCLC can help you figure out how and when to pump to maximize your milk supply. If your baby has a longer stay (in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU, for instance) and you want to transition from bottle to breast, IBCLCs can help with that too.

Seeing an IBCLC After You and Baby Are Home

While you might be able to figure out breastfeeding while you’re in the hospital, the more likely scenario is that you and baby will have to continue to learn and adapt to your changing milk supply and baby’s changing hunger and growing appetite. The colostrum that we talked about above will become transitional milk, usually starting around days 2 to 5 after birth. By about two weeks after birth, your milk will generally have fully transitioned to mature milk, the type of milk you’ll make throughout your time breastfeeding your baby. This set of transitions not only changes the color of your milk from gold (colostrum) to tan or yellow (transition milk) to blue-white (mature milk), but also leads to changes in your breasts and body. At the same time, baby is waking up from being sleepy after birth, figuring out latching, and eating a lot.

If you have any concerns about baby’s wet or dirty diapers or any pain while you feed the baby, it’s time to call an IBCLC. You may visit them in an office or perhaps they do home visits. At the visit, you can do a weighted feed to figure out how much milk baby is getting and the IBCLC will offer tips on positioning and latching your baby to continue an optimal feeding relationship.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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