How lactation specialists can help you find answers to your nursing goals

Woman nursing baby
Lactation specialists help parents get comfortable feeing their baby -- no matter what method they choose. (Image: Adobe Stock)

Even if you’ve done it before, feeding a baby can be hard — especially breastfeeding.

Research has shown that almost 60 percent of women in the United States who breastfeed stop before they intend to. This happens for a number of reasons:

  • difficulties producing milk, including low supply
  • slow infant weight gain (sometimes called “failure to thrive”)
  • an illness or need for the mother to take medication
  • pumping problems, including lack of support or resources within the workplace

Other reasons may include:

  • breast pain and sore nipples
  • latching difficulty
  • discomfort during nursing
  • feeding aversion
  • stress or emotional/psychological difficulties due to a traumatic birth or past experience
  • external pressure from friends, families or others to stop nursing once the baby reaches a certain age or milestone (for example, six months old or when they start solid foods)

For these women, and for those with anxiety around nursing or feeding in general, it may be reassuring to know that there are resources available to help right in your pediatrician’s office.

We spoke with lactation specialists at Pediatrics at Newton Wellesley, part of the Boston Children’s Primary Care Alliance, about how they help parents navigate nursing, pumping, and formula feeding.

What is the role of a lactation specialist?

“We are here to educate, listen, answer questions, and support you,” says Sherry Maloney, NP, IBCLC. “Breastfeeding requires practice and patience. And some situations, such as when your baby is born early, make breastfeeding harder.”

“The most important part of my role is supporting parents,” says Kathy James, NP, a lactation counselor. “My number one piece of advice is for parents to take care of themselves. I remind them to be mindful of their presence and state of mind when they’re with their baby. There’s no overstating the importance of being calm and relaxed when feeding a baby; it improves lactation during breastfeeding or pumping.”

When is it time to see a lactation specialist?

“Parents should call if they find themselves worrying about whether their babies are getting enough to eat, if they are having pain or discomfort, or if they are confused about what they should be doing,” advises Maloney.

It may also be helpful to meet with a lactation specialist even before your baby is born. Since many new parents worry whether their baby is getting enough to eat, asking questions and learning hunger cues in advance can help prepare you for when your baby arrives.

Suppose you’ve had trouble breastfeeding in the past. In that case, a lactation specialist can work with you to figure out what may have happened and find solutions.

Lactation specialists are also a valuable resource for navigating how to pump breast milk. They can help you find the right pump and teach you how to use it. They also offer guidance on setting up a pumping schedule and storing and preparing the pumped milk.

What’s the benefit of having lactation services within your pediatrician’s practice?

“Being on site helps us address feeding problems quickly,” Maloney says. “Sometimes we pick up on feeding issues during the very first visit. It also helps when the lactation consultant has a close relationship with your pediatrician, so they can share and collaborate on how to help.”

“Having lactation services within your pediatrician’s office says a lot about how they emphasize supporting new mothers on their breastfeeding journey,” James adds. “But at Pediatrics at Newton Wellesley, we also love to provide support for parents for whom breastfeeding does not work.”

What support is available for parents who don’t breastfeed?

“If a mom isn’t breastfeeding, she still may have questions we can help with,” says James.

Lactation specialists can help women manage breast engorgement and comfortably decrease their milk supply. They can also answer questions and provide tips about bottle feeding, such as the best bottles or nipples to use for your baby’s specific feeding needs.

Most importantly, lactation specialists offer judgment-free support.

“Some mothers struggle with the decision of whether to breastfeed,” James adds. “Some may not know if they’ll be able to or simply feel it isn’t right for them. Talking through some of these doubts often helps moms feel more comfortable with their decision, no matter what that looks like.”

Support from a lactation specialist can give you the best chance at success with feeding your baby, regardless of what that looks like.

“There is so much more to being a good parent than how you feed your baby,” says James. “Our job is to ensure all parents feel supported in whatever decision they make.”

Many Boston Children’s Primary Care Alliance practices offer lactation consultations and support. Find a practice near you.

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