My mom-in-law is a lactation consultant. This means I’ve got all the support I need when it comes to nursing. It also means I don’t have to feel uncomfortable, as some of my friends say they are, nursing my babies when I’m at my in-laws’. In fact, I took the whole daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship to a new level when I asked her to check to make sure my nipples weren’t inverted. Mind you, I wasn’t pregnant or even married to her son at the time (we were engaged, thank goodness), and I was already worried about not being able to nurse. I’ve got to be the first daughter-in-law ever to willingly show her future mother-in-law her breasts. The good news is my nipples were perfectly fine, and all those fears of nursing failure were in vain (like most of my silly fears). I’ve breastfed two kiddos with ease, and nursing has been a rewarding experience.
Still, it’s meant a great deal to me to have someone on deck if a question does arise. My main problem has been making too much milk, and Mom-in-law was always armed with resources to help settle down my super soakers and give my poor, gulping babies a chance to breathe. She’s also helped many of my friends with everything from routine nursing problems (trouble getting a baby to latch-on) to less common questions (tips for nursing a baby after a C-section).
In honor of this Dairy Queen in our family (who happens to be a wonderful grandma for reasons other than her nursing expertise), I’ve decided to share a Q&A with my mom-in-law the lactation consultant. So whether you’re a nursing mom, a La Leche Leader, or maybe someone who’s considering becoming a lactation consultant, read on to discover why my mom-in-law thinks she has the best job in the world.
How long have you been a lactation consultant?
I started working with breastfeeding mothers and babies in 1982 as a volunteer La Leche League Leader. I have been a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) since 1989. After becoming certified, I was in private practice for several years. I have been in my present position at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for nearly eight years.
What made you decide to become a lactation consultant?
I have always loved children – especially babies – and I love teaching (I have a BS in education). I stayed home with my babies and started volunteering with La Leche League when my second child was a year old. This gave me the opportunity to teach and be with babies. I was hooked!
Why is supporting moms and their babies in their breastfeeding journey so important to you?
I believe every baby is entitled to breastfeed -if physically capable. If the baby can’t breastfeed, he is at least entitled to receive breastmilk. I believe new mothers need help and support to successfully breastfeed and/or pump. In the old days everyone breastfed, so family and friends could help the new mother get a good start breastfeeding. Lactation consultants weren’t necessary. Nowadays, a new mother can’t necessarily depend on friends and family for help. There’s a need for someone who is knowledgeable about breastfeeding to help new mothers.
I like to be needed. I love what I do. I have fun every day at my job. I honestly have never met anyone who is happier with what they do for a living than I am.
If you could pick one of the biggest misconceptions Americans have about breastfeeding, what would it be?
It’s not really about breastfeeding. It’s about formula. The formula companies have done such a good job marketing that many Americans believe that formula is just as good as breastmilk or good enough. It’s not. Breastmilk should be the food of choice for all of our babies. The only time formula is good enough is when the mother is not capable of producing milk or enough milk and donor milk is not available – or in the extremely rare cases when the baby cannot tolerate breastmilk. Then and only then is formula good enough.
My note: I may seem like a waffling wimp, but I have to add a few comments here. In my own experience, it wasn’t so much the formula companies that made me question nursing before I became a mom, but the belief that had been pressed upon me from media and some other moms that nursing was really hard. (Although the formula companies are probably partially to blame for brainwashing women into thinking nursing is complicated and difficult. They don’t want women to nurse, after all. They want them to throw in the towel – or soggy burp cloth – and reach for the expensive formula.)
That’s really why I actually showed my mom-in-law my breasts before I was even pregnant. I was convinced nursing was going to require as much coordination and perfect anatomy as it takes for Michael Phelps to win eight Gold medals in Beijing.
Maybe this is why I was pleasantly surprised by just how natural nursing came to my babies and me. This isn’t to say women don’t encounter problems. I have plenty of friends who had trouble breastfeeding, especially in those early weeks. What got them through those tough moments was the support of their husbands, other breastfeeding moms, and sometimes health professionals like lactation consultants.
I think one of the reasons nursing was so easy for me was because in the back of my mind I knew I had someone on call to offer me help if I needed it. I wish all women had that. My mom certainly didn’t. She had zero support. She was told she couldn’t breastfeed because of her – you guessed it – inverted nipples. She’s more sane than I am and wasn’t about to show her nipples to my dad’s mom as wonderful as my nana was (and is!), and her mom had already passed away. Her doctors told her not to worry about not breastfeeding. So she didn’t, and she shouldn’t now either. I share this anecdote because we have to be careful about what we say about formula for the moms who didn’t breastfeed because the last thing good moms need is more guilt about what they did or didn’t do.
Most moms want the best for their babies, but sometimes society and our own families (not in my case, but I’ve heard plenty of stories to know this is true) give us mixed signals about exactly what’s best. We have to learn to trust our mom guts, and nursing is a natural thing for a mom to want to do even if it doesn’t always come naturally right away. What I do encourage all women – whether you’ve nursed or not – is to, as my own awesome mom has done, support other breastfeeding moms. (Men need to show their support as well. My husband is great about supporting my nursing. He better be, or he’d be hearing from his mom!)
If we truly want more moms to nurse, then we, as a society, have to stop making nursing out to be something that’s difficult or something, for example, that only at-home moms can do. We have to counter the formula companies’ propaganda by openly talking about the health benefits for mom and baby as well as the joys (and the challenges, too) of nursing. Breast is best and should be the cultural norm and something that is more than a “nice” thing to do for babies, but that doesn’t mean moms who didn’t breastfeed didn’t love their kids.
Finally, on a more personal note given some of my own experiences, we must stand behind breastfeeding moms – including those who choose to nurse at the mall and discreetly at Mass.
Describe a typical workday.
I start out going through the hospital census to look for new admissions who might be breastfeeding to add to my patient list. Last year I had an average of 27 patients on my list every day. Thank goodness they don’t all need me.
Some are sick babies who just happen to be breastfeeding, but breastfeeding is not the problem. They don’t need me.
Some are here for some illness and are having breastfeeding difficulties because of the illness. I try and help the mother maintain her milk supply until the baby is better and back to regular nursing.
A few are having problems with breastfeeding, which has caused other problems – jaundice, failure to thrive, or dehydration. I help these mothers in many different ways. Sometimes they need help getting the baby latched correctly. Sometimes they need help pumping to increase their milk production. Sometimes they are engorged.
Some mothers of babies in our surgical neonatal intensive care unit will need to pump for weeks or months before even attempting to put the baby to breast. When the time comes to put these babies to the breast for the first time, I help. And guess what? Most of these babies do become breastfeeders!
What’s the most rewarding thing about your job? What about the most challenging aspect?
Most rewarding: When a baby who was not breastfeeding well is discharged successfully breastfeeding. I feel like what I do to help that mother and baby will have a lasting impact on their lives.
Most challenging: Dealing with people who think breastfeeding is nice but not necessary.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about becoming a lactation consultant?
It’s a personally rewarding profession. You won’t get rich.
At this time it is easier to find a job if you have a medical back ground (RN or RD, for example). Which, by the way, I think is dumb. Teaching breastfeeding is NOT rocket science!
What about advice for a nursing mom or moms of little ones in general?
Don’t expect too much of yourself. Take care of the baby(ies) and take care of yourself. That’s enough. They are small for such a short time. I know – my babies are 26 and 30!
For more information on becoming a lactation consultant, please visit the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.