Lactation education

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

Lactation specialists help parents feel comfortable breastfeeding their baby, whichever method they choose. (Image: Adobe Stock)

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

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

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

Other reasons may include:

  • breast pain and sore nipples
  • locking difficulty
  • discomfort while breastfeeding
  • aversion to food
  • stress or emotional/psychological difficulties due to a traumatic birth or past experience
  • external pressure from friends, family, or others to stop breastfeeding once the baby reaches a certain age or milestone (for example, six months or when they start eating solid foods)

For these women, and for those who are anxious about breastfeeding or nutrition in general, it can be reassuring to know that there are resources available to help you right in your pediatrician’s office.

We spoke with lactation specialists at Pediatrics at Newton Wellesleypart of the Boston Children’s Primary Care Allianceon how they help parents manage breastfeeding, pumping and formula feeding.

What is the role of a lactation specialist?

“We are here to inform you, listen to you, answer your questions and support you,” says Sherry Maloney, NP, IBCLC. “Breastfeeding takes practice and patience. And some situations, like when your baby is born early, make breastfeeding more difficult.

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

When is it time to see a lactation specialist?

“Parents should call if they’re wondering if their baby is getting enough food, feeling pain or discomfort, or not knowing what to do,” advises Maloney.

It may also be helpful to meet with a lactation specialist even before your baby is born. Since many new parents worry about whether their baby is getting enough to eat, asking questions and learning hunger cues ahead of time can help you prepare for your baby’s arrival.

Suppose you have had difficulty breastfeeding in the past. In this case, a lactation specialist can work with you to understand what may have happened and find solutions.

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

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

“Being there helps us resolve power issues quickly,” Maloney says. “Sometimes we find feeding problems on 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 breastfeeding services within your pediatrician’s office says a lot about how focused they are on supporting new mothers on their breastfeeding journey,” adds James. “But to Pediatrics at Newton Wellesleywe also like to provide support to parents for whom breastfeeding is not working.

What support is available for parents who are not breastfeeding?

“If a mother isn’t breastfeeding, she may still have questions that we can answer,” says James.

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

Most importantly, lactation specialists offer non-judgmental support.

“Some mothers have a hard time deciding whether or not to breastfeed,” adds James. “Some may not know if they’ll be able to or just think it’s not good for them. Talking about some of these doubts often helps mothers feel more comfortable with their decision, no matter what it looks like.

Support from a lactation specialist can give you the best chance of successfully feeding your baby, no matter what it looks like.

“Being a good parent isn’t just about how you feed your baby,” says James. “Our job is to make sure all parents feel supported in whatever decision they make.”

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