Lactation education

A conversation with a nurse turned lactation consultant—Could this be for you?

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Nurses have the opportunity to take on new and advanced roles through certifications and degree programs. For nurses working in maternal and child health, a lactation consultant is one such role to pursue. A lactation consultant, formerly titled IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), is a healthcare professional who can work in a variety of healthcare settings and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. IBCLCs have been proven to improve breastfeeding rates, reduce healthcare costs, and improve consumer satisfaction and confidence.

Many nurses and the general public may not know exactly what a lactation consultant does on a daily basis. Daily Nurse interviewed Robin Franzoni, a lactation consultant at a central New Jersey teaching hospital. Robin worked as a NICU nurse for many years before becoming an IBCLC. Here’s what she had to say.

What inspired you to become a lactation consultant? When were you first exposed to an IBCLC?

My passion dates back to when I was a new mom and preparing to breastfeed my first child. My mother nor my aunt never breastfed. I was one of the first of my friends to have children. My exposure to breast milk and expressing my milk while working in the NICU was what really spurred my own decision to breastfeed. There were no lactation consultants back then, but I saw how babies did better on their own mother’s milk. I had horrible pregnancies and premature births with all three of my children, but felt like the only thing I was getting was breastfeeding my own children. So my success at breastfeeding and NICU exposure is what got me interested.

What do you think your typical day looks like? What are your daily responsibilities?

I first see my patients on discharge and make sure they go home with all their questions answered and information for post-discharge follow-up, especially those who have had difficulty latching on or eating or losing too much weight. Then I see all the first-time moms, assess the latch, and motivate them to start positioning the baby themselves. A lot of it prepares them for what’s expected at home because they have so little time in the hospital. Then, after overcoming most of the first moms, I see other moms who are struggling or who have requested a consultation. But really my first priority is to see, stabilize and support the mother for the first time.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I think I’m the person who had a baby for the first time or see a struggling baby and all of a sudden it clicks and they start eating. And Mom’s expression of wonder on her face like, “Oh my God, it’s happening.” I have attended hundreds of births in my career and it was so exciting to see a baby being born and breathing for the first time. Seeing this baby eat for the first time is just as exciting as seeing the baby being born. It’s the culmination of a lot of different things that are finally in perfect order and everything clicks into place and for me it’s really wonderful. It’s about making that connection with the baby through breastfeeding, not just for nutrition, but also for connection with the baby.

What’s the hardest part of what you do?

It is the preconceptions that people have that have a negative impact on nursing. These are unrealistic expectations and misinformation that the mother has received from family members or friends. It can be like trying to break down a barrier that has been erected around them. But I think it’s mostly the lack of proper breastfeeding education.

How do you work with nurses when providing care to a patient?

Well, I feel like I got really lucky. I developed this routine that after seeing mother and baby, I usually go to the bedside nurse. And I think it’s just evolved in what I do because I rely on the bedside nurse to carry the ball after I’m gone. The reality is that I will probably only see this patient once on day 1 postpartum and on discharge. So the rest falls on the bedside nurse. Teamwork achieves this. I want every nurse to feel like they are part of breastfeeding support and that I rely on them and trust them.

Do you have any advice for nurses who would like to become an IBCLC?

I think they need a really good mother/baby or NICU experience first. I think you need a base, then after you build that base, think about doing it. It’s something I really think you have to have a passion for because it’s one of the hardest things I’ve done to date. I thought it would be less stressful than NICU, but it’s just a different type of stress. Not only do you support and assist the baby, but you are also responsible for the emotional well-being of the mother and part of the physical well-being.

If you want to know more about the professional role of a lactation consultant, you can visit www.uslca.org Where www.ilca.org. Information on obtaining certification can be found at www.iblce.org.

Latest articles by Allison Flynn, BSN, RN, IBCLC (see everything)