Got Milk? 3 Things You Might Not Know About Breastfeeding

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“Historically, parents had community support, and lactation knowledge was passed down through generations. Today, we live in a very different world.”

You might’ve heard that breastfeeding is “natural,” so it shouldn’t be hard to figure out. Or maybe you’ve heard the opposite — that breastfeeding will be complicated and even hurt, and that you have to push through the pain. But neither explanation is necessarily true: The nursing journey often presents a range of challenges, complexities, and discoveries that mothers may not anticipate. From latching issues to milk-supply concerns, the path to successful breastfeeding can be a winding one, and that’s where the invaluable expertise of lactation consultants comes into play.

Lactation consultants are some of the unsung heroes of maternal health, providing guidance and support to mothers before, during, and after one of the most crucial phases of their lives. Their role extends far beyond the delivery room, as they work to empower new (and even second- or third-time moms) with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the curve of breastfeeding — from the prenatal to weening stages.

Lactation consultants are experts in maternal biology and infant oral anatomy, but above all, they’re a lifeline for nursing parents.

breastfeeding mom and child
Courtesy of The Lactation Network.

The U.S. is one of only six countries with no national paid leave policy, leaving many mothers confused about how to approach feeding while juggling a 9-to-5.

Won’t baby and I intuitively know what to do? Haven’t people always breastfed? are questions that Chrisie Rosenthal, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), who’s been in the field for 12 years, says she often hears from first-time parents.

“We’ve been breastfeeding since the beginning of time, so how did we make it this far if it’s not something that always comes naturally?” says Rosenthal. “One key difference we see is that, historically, families lived within close proximity. Parents had community support, and lactation knowledge was passed down through generations. Today, we live in a very different world.”

Plus, the U.S. is one of only six countries with no national paid leave policy, confusing many parents about how to approach feeding while juggling a 9-to-5. Lactation consultants help guide families through that return-to-work transition. “IBCLCs have unique expertise that can help prepare and guide parents through this stage of their feeding journey,” says Rosenthal.

To ensure that your newborn thrives and that breastfeeding is as simple as possible for you, we’re clearing up three common misconceptions about lactation consultants and why you may want to seek one out — whether it’s you, your daughter, or your granddaughter who’s expecting.

3 Myths about Lactation Consultants

1. They’re expensive

In 2012, the Affordable Care Act mandated that new health insurance policies covered lactation-support services (including lactation consultants) with no out-of-pocket expenses for the patient. Although many insurers get around this by offering minimal lactation support coverage, others do offer more comprehensive benefits.

“If I go back 20 years to when my twins were born, seeing a lactation consultant was very expensive — around $150 to $200 for a 45-minute appointment,” says Rosenthal. “So most people had one or two consultations at the most. In my practice, I’m able to be there with patients every step of the way because my services are often covered under insurance.”

The Lactation Network (TLN) helps remove the guesswork regarding whether or not your insurance covers breastfeeding support. How does it work? TLN is a national provider of insurance-covered lactation care, and with the largest network of IBCLCs in the country, its easy-to-use website helps connect you with potential IBCLCs (the gold standard of lactation support specialists) in your area, or via telehealth. Once you’re connected with an IBCLC, they’ll answer all of your breastfeeding questions, help you triage any issues you’re having, provide you with a personalized plan for feeding your baby, and so much more.

2. They’re only helpful the first time around

Having a lactation consultant for your second, third, or fourth baby can be just as crucial as it was for your first. Every baby, and therefore every breastfeeding experience, is unique, and a lactation consultant can provide tailored guidance to address any new challenges that may arise.

“Early on in my career, I worked in hospitals and I’d often pop in on a brand-new parent who I knew was breastfeeding, to see if they needed anything. They’d say things like, ‘Oh, this is my second baby. I got this!” says Rosenthal. “I’d say, ‘I’m around if you need me.’ And then I’d come into work the next day and I’d hear, ‘Red alert. That parent wants to see you.’”

Lactating parents, statistically speaking, produce more milk for a second or third child than they did the first time around. “Your supply can be different, and most people don’t know that oversupply can be just as big of a problem as low supply,” explains Rosenthal. “It’s a different experience from baby to baby, even if the parent is experienced with breastfeeding. We help talk through the different scenarios that may arise even before the baby’s born.”

3. They’re a nice-to-have, but not a must-have

Yes, your body will produce breastmilk after you give birth if the milk is regularly removed. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easy for everyone to feed their baby. How can you tell if your infant is getting enough milk? What should it feel like? How often should you be nursing? Can you supplement with formula and breastfeed at the same time? How do you know if you have a low milk supply?

These are the types of questions a lactation consultant will help you answer, in addition to helping ease any anxieties you have around breastfeeding. “It’s really a game changer to have an IBCLC in your back pocket,” says Rosenthal. “Even when breastfeeding is going well, we are there to provide education, and make suggestions to improve your experience.” Without an IBCLC available to provide evidence-based feeding information, many parents who intend to exclusively breastfeed will turn to formula.

“Many families have told me over the years that having an IBCLC as a member of their support team was the key factor that enabled them to meet their feeding goals,” says Rosenthal, “and that they would have given up at a certain point, without one.”