Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t always come naturally.
It’s a phrase that’s touted often, but I wish I had taken it to heart before giving birth. For the past eighteen months, I have had the privilege of breastfeeding my son. But, we didn’t get to this point alone. The lactation professionals who worked with Leo and me were an amazing source of knowledge and support. They helped me overcome a range of obstacles I never expected, including latch issues, mastitis, tongue-tie, cracked nipples, and insufficient supply.
So powerful was their influence that I knew I would eventually want to become a lactation counselor, too. This week, I’m finally going to make that goal a reality.
Today I began a 40-hour, weeklong course to become a Certified Lactation Counselor through the Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. The CLC and the IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), are the two credentials recognized by the Centers for Disease Control in their Breastfeeding Report Card, a tool to measure breastfeeding support and success in each state.
The course includes evidence-based information for supporting women in learning about breastfeeding and achieving their breastfeeding goals.
“The CLC certification means that a person has received training and competency verification in breastfeeding and human lactation support including:
• helping a baby latch on
• counseling mothers
• knowledge of milk production
• practical feeding
• special circumstances
• feeding difficulties
• prevention and management of sore nipples
• breastfeeding and returning to work or school
• and more…”
How do lactation professionals help moms?
A few days before I gave birth to my son, I met my friend Lucy for lunch. As the mother of three boys, Lucy was and is a great source for advice. She is the kind of person who can temper idealism with realism. She believes in the power of women and birth without fear, and she gave me a lot of confidence to trust in my body.
But that day, as I told her that I planned to breastfeed, she gave me some sage advice: have a breastfeeding professional lined up. As a young, healthy, mostly fit woman, I was confident that I would successfully give birth drug-free, and then begin breastfeeding my baby while my husband loving looked upon the pair of us. Naïve, much?
Looking back, I realize that I only half-listened. I took note of her advice, and stored away the name she gave me. But, I never, ever expected I would need it.
The early days of breastfeeding were a struggle, to say the least. My son could not latch onto my nipple. He would simply clamp down very painfully. Despite several nurses and the hospital lactation consultant attempting to help, we left the hospital with formula and a vague idea of how to express colostrum (I had very little success with the pump or hand-expression while in the hospital). I ended up painfully engorged, in tears, and completely at a loss for what to do and no one to ask.
My mother had breastfed me, but, as she described it, her babies “just nursed” (“We didn’t use the word ‘latch’ thirty years ago,” she said). She was in no way trained to help me trouble shoot common breastfeeding problems. That’s where a professional lactation consultant or counselor comes in.
In short, my experiences and environment never prepared me for the experience of breastfeeding. I had once, as a child, seen a woman breastfeed and at the time I didn’t really understand what she was doing and I thought it was really weird. Other than that encounter, I was clueless. I was naïve, too, as I described earlier.
I ended up meeting with Irene Cullagh, RN, IBCLC at Yale-New Haven Hospital St. Raphael’s Campus and owner of Breastfeeding and Beyond LLC and who runs the B.A.B.Y. Program. I also had a few appointments with Mary Griffin Kellogg, MD, FAAFP, IBCLC at Breastfeeding Resources. Their advice and instruction gave me facts and hope. It took about eight weeks, but my son and I finally got our sea legs and he’s been entirely breastfed ever since.
The support of these trained women inspired me to pay it forward. After only a few months of breastfeeding, I knew I wanted to get certified in lactation counseling.
I have become frustrated by a culture that touts breastfeeding as “best,” but doesn’t truly support women to succeed with breastfeeding (a topic for another post), and I want to be able to help women find a way to either meet (and when necessary, modify) their breastfeeding goals according to their life situation.
I hope to use this certification on a volunteer basis, as an in-person consultant for women and also as evidence-based information to back up the information I put on the Internet through this blog, and my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Breastfeeding has been a journey that I could never have imagined or predicted. It continues to be a wonderful source of comfort and closeness for my son and me. I want to be able to use my experience to fuel my training, because now I can honestly say to another mother: “I empathize, I support you, and I believe in you.” Just like the wonderful women who supported me.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my experience getting my certification and the information I am learning. I invite you to join me on this journey by sharing your experiences with your lactation professional.
Fill in the blank: “Thanks to my CLC (or IBCLC), _________________.”
If you have a picture with your lactation professional, I’d love to see that, too! Invite your friends to share their stories, and use the hashtag #ThanksToMyCLC (or #ThanksToMyIBCLC).