Lactation education

The Medical Minute: Lactation Consultants Can Help Mothers Breastfeed Successfully

Nothing beats breast milk for babies. It provides the nutrition they need, protection against digestive problems, and immunity against various diseases. Yet for something so natural, breastfeeding is rarely natural. Fortunately, lactation consultants can help new moms anticipate and overcome almost any obstacle on the road to breastfeeding success.

Nancy McDaniel, Registered Nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Penn State Health Children’s Hospital, calls himself a cheerleader for breastfeeding mothers. “We’re here to make sure new moms can get to where they want their babies to be – breastfeeding with ease and confidence,” she said.

Lactation specialists receive specialized education and training to help mothers establish and maintain breastfeeding, even in the midst of difficulties and medical conditions that might otherwise derail the effort.

Prenatal support

Ideally, breastfeeding support and education should start early, well before the baby is born, McDaniel said.

Tara Schmid, Nurse Educator and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical CenterAgreed.

“We will contact our prenatal mothers to ask if they have thought about how they are going to feed their baby,” Schmid said. “If these mothers have any medical issues they are aware of, anything that could potentially cause breastfeeding issues – such as a previous breast augmentation or reduction, or polycystic ovary syndrome – we can discuss and plan at the advance so that they are better prepared when they have their baby.

A familiar obstacle that McDaniel and Schmid face with prenatal patients is emotional: fear.

“They’ve heard horror stories about the pain of breastfeeding,” Schmid said. “I explain to them that when a mother feels pain while breastfeeding, it is actually an important signal that the baby is not latching on properly. We tell pregnant women that while they may expect some tenderness in the first week due to hormonal changes, breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.

While early education is essential to provide a foundation of support for future breastfeeding, lactation consultants really step in once the baby has arrived.

Early and Ongoing Support

“The most immediate issue is usually getting the newborn to latch on properly,” Schmid said. Lactation consultants work with moms with breast positioning to help the infant latch on well. During this time, “the infant learns to coordinate its suck-swallow-breath pattern,” she said.

During the first hours and days of breastfeeding, mothers often worry that their baby is not eating enough.

“Bottle-feeding moms can say, ‘I just gave my baby two ounces. But nursing mothers don’t have that easy measure of reassurance,” McDaniel said. “We tell them to trust nature. And for added peace of mind, we remind them that what goes in must come out, so they need to watch their baby’s pee and poo.

Hospitals provide breastfeeding mothers with a booklet that gives them a chart of the number of stools a newborn baby should have per day. McDaniel also recommends moms download a free app they can use to create a record.

The role of a lactation consultant continues after the mother leaves the hospital with her newborn.

“I’m here for them as long as they want me,” McDaniel said. “I’m just a phone call away when they need me.” She said she sees new moms most often during the first two weeks after giving birth — whether or not they gave birth at a Penn State Health medical center. “It’s not always a one-time visit,” she said. “I followed some families in person five, six times, then I had additional telephone consultations to reassure them.”

Common concerns that arise in the first days and weeks after giving birth include sore, cracked, and sometimes bleeding nipples that most often result from a shallow latch, Schmid said. Complications can include clogged ducts and mastitis – inflammation of the breast tissue that may require antibiotics to treat. Women should call their doctor if they experience symptoms, including breast pain, swelling, warmth or redness, or fever.

McDaniel and Schmid want mothers to know that breastfeeding difficulties are not uncommon and to seek help from a lactation consultant.

“We see moms wondering, ‘Am I the only person struggling with this?’ McDaniel said, “And I keep telling them that if you were the only person with this problem, I wouldn’t have this job.”

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the medical minute is a weekly health report produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians, and staff, and are designed to offer relevant and timely health information of interest to a broad audience.