New moms sometimes expect nursing to happen very easily for them. We sometimes think it's such a natural thing, that it must "just happen" and there won't be any troubles or delays in developing a good latch and a nursing relationship. Unfortunately, anything with tremendous worth usually comes with tremendous work - and nursing a newborn is no different.
This is where lactation consultants (LCs) come in and can literally save you and your baby.
What is a Lactation Consultant? Lactation consultants are trained health professionals who help women learn how to feed their babies. Typically, they are qualified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLE). Some LCs are not affiliated with IBCLE but are considered lactation counselors. Counselors can still help you achieve a good nursing relationship with your baby, but they have not had the same amount of training as someone certified via IBCLE).
What can I expect from a consultation? Consults sometime occur in the hospital just after the baby has been born. A staff LC may do rounds while you're in recovery and check up on you and your baby to determine if the nursing is going well. Sometimes a consult is better when it occurs in your home several days after the baby's birthday so that your milk will have already come in and you're able to begin establishing a healthy supply. During the consult, the LC will typically do an assessment of both you and your baby. They'll observe the latch and watch how the baby feeds at your breast. They might weigh your baby before and after a feeding, and they may evaluate your child for the presence of a lip tie or a tongue tie, which can greatly affect the feeding style of a newborn.
How do I find a good LC? Many OB/GYN practices now have an LC on staff, so you may already know one and be able to speak with one during your pregnancy. If this is not true for your care provider, you can ask friends or family members that you know and trust for their opinions about LCs they may have used with their pregnancies. You could get referrals from your care provider, from your insurance carrier, or from your birthing class instructors.
How do I pay for my consult? Consultations can range in price from $200 to $350, and they should include a visit to physically evaluate you and/or your baby in your home and also include follow up visits, phone calls and/or emails to check in on your progress. Most insurance carriers will cover the cost of an LC consultation, but sometimes LCs choose not to be affiliated with insurance plans because they sometimes are not fully paid, or the payment terms are difficult to manage. In those cases, it may be best to pay the LC directly, obtain a detailed receipt and submit it to your insurance plan for reimbursement. Some women find it helpful to have their physician (or the baby's pediatrician) write a letter of referral for the consultation and submit this referral with the LC's receipt so that reimbursement can happen more quickly.
For additional information, many resources are available to moms now. You can check out IBCLE, La Leche League, or Breastfeeding USA for further guidance when searching for a lactation consultant.