The right support can help you achieve your infant feeding goals
Article originally published in Modern Mama Baby Guide Fall 2020
“My mom couldn’t breastfeed, so I won’t be able to.”
“I wish I could breastfeed but I can’t because I’m taking an antidepressant.”
“I just delivered an hour ago, I don’t have any milk yet. Let’s just give formula until my milk comes in.”
“I have breast implants so I won’t be able to breastfeed.”
“My baby isn’t latching [20 minutes after delivery], he must not want my milk.”
I have been a Labour and Delivery for the past 10 years and have heard the above FALSE statements so many times. I frequently see parents who spend months researching and planning for the labour and delivery process, have a birth plan, have made goals for their labour, and have some knowledge about induction, medications, and pain management strategies. Unfortunately, I find that many first-time parents have very few realistic expectations or knowledge of all of the things that happen after the baby arrives. Even more unfortunate is that those who do try to educate themselves about infant feeding are often bombarded with inaccurate information, unsolicited advice, judgement, and comparison.
Yes, we are incredibly lucky to have fast access to a seemingly unlimited amount of information. Anything you could possibly want to know is a quick click away. Or is it? For new and expectant parents, there are many credible and accurate online sources of information. However, there are also a lot of lies, myths, guilt trips, “fake news”, and just plain BS out there that harm and undermine a new parent’s abilities to care for their new baby.
In fact, the vast amount of inaccurate infant feeding-related information disseminated through many popular online sources is the very reason that I decided to gain my accreditation as an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
There are several certifications and accreditations for lactation professionals. CBE (Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor), CLE (Certified Lactation Educator), LC (Lactation Consultant or Counsellor), and IBCLC (International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant) are the main ones you will encounter. IBCLC is the highest level of accreditation, requires a minimum of 1000 hours of lactation-related clinical experience as well as the completion of a comprehensive educational program and 4-hour-long exam. IBCLCs are also required to rewrite the exam or complete approved educational hours every 5 years.
While all lactation professionals can support families and assist with infant feeding goals, IBCLCs are specially trained to assess both moms and babies for the sometimes complicated and interrelated issues that can cause feeding troubles.
Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s easy
The world of infant feeding is broad and requires knowledge and skills from a huge range of topics (anatomy, physiology, nutrition, sleep, counselling, etc.). IBCLCs can assist, support, and educate families on a variety of topics: sore nipples, milk supply, proper latch and sucking skills, infant weight gain, tongue tie, formula selection and preparation, pumping and storing milk, supplementary nursing systems, induced lactation, re-lactation, starting solid foods, returning to work, and a huge variety of topics in between.
When I started studying to become an IBCLC, I could not believe how much information is applicable to infant feeding. Some of the data out there is credible and valid, but a lot of it isn’t. No new parent has time to read, research, and review all of the materials out there. Your IBCLC can be the one to sift through the huge amounts of information, and supply you with the best education, strategies, guidance and support. Anyone you hire to support you in your parenting journey should use their education and experience to bring about a balanced and realistic perspective. They should make this journey about YOU and your unique goals.
I mentioned earlier that yes, all lactation professionals can help families with their infant feeding goals. However, it is important to find someone who uses evidence-based information, is willing to work with your other care providers to find strategies that are effective, attainable, and feasible.
Most importantly, though, someone who helps you make an informed decision and then RESPECTS THAT DECISION is an invaluable asset to your new parenting journey.
So where do I find these magical unicorns?
Just kidding. While lactation professionals can help immensely in providing support and education for new parents, we are definitely not magical (though I wish we were). Many infant feeding challenges require time, effort, and dedication to overcome. Unfortunately, there are very few quick and easy fixes in the breastfeeding world. This is why evidence-based education and support are so incredibly important. Any professional supporting you with infant feeding must be willing to spend time planning, following-up, and evaluating the plan of care.
You can start your search for an IBCLC by asking friends, your family doctor, OBGYN, midwife, doula, public health centre, or prenatal educator for recommendations. In Edmonton, the Edmonton Breastfeeding Resource (www.edmontonbreastfeeding.com) lists and links a variety of public and private breastfeeding clinics and independent practices. You should definitely check out the websites and social media of local lactation professionals to help determine of their philosophy and values match yours. And finally, don’t hesitate to schedule a quick phone chat to see if you “click.” You can use this phone conversation to discuss their infection control policy for home visits, their specific process for assessment and plan of care, and their plan for follow-up.
Obviously, I want you to choose me, but there are several excellent IBCLC options out there!
Starting this search during your pregnancy is a great idea. Many IBCLCs offer prenatal breastfeeding education, which I recommend wholeheartedly. Proper education helps create realistic expectations and can give you strategies to identify and manage common challenges. I wish that more people would reach out prenatally. Most of the time, I am contacted by parents who have been having feeding challenges for weeks and are at their wits’ end. Sucj issues can take weeks or even months to resolve. Sometimes, a small investment before you even start your journey can help to prevent major issues down the road.
It’s too late for that- I need help now!
If you are experiencing feeding issues, the IBCLC process involves a one-on-one in-home or online visit. We review any pertinent health and obstetrical history, listen to your concerns, complete applicable physical assessments on mom and baby, observe a feed, and discuss strategies you can undertake to improve your infant feeding experience. These strategies may be simple, requiring small adjustments to positioning, increasing feeding frequency, etc. Or they may be more complex, sometimes involving referrals to other care providers as well as rigorous support and follow-up.
Many private IBCLCs provide follow-up home visits and/or email and telephone follow-up after this initial visit.
Hang in there, baby!
There is so much societal pressure placed on new parents for their parenting decisions, and infant feeding is one of the most hotly debated topics.
Any lactation professional you hire for infant feeding help should support and uplift, be free of judgement, and be willing to work within your goals and lifestyle.
Everyone’s journey is different and there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to making decisions about what is best for you, your baby, and your family. Well, I mean, there are SOME wrong answers- like feeding your infant whole grapes or strapping them into the passenger seat while drag racing down the highway…things like that are unquestionably wrong. In terms of infant feeding, however, when you are mindful of your baby’s growth and development, as well as your goals, support systems, and mental health- there are no wrong answers. Sometimes you just need some meaningful support to help you navigate the numerous options and strategies.
Remember to take a moment, acknowledge the great job you are doing, and never hesitate to ask for help and support!