The term lactation consultant or LC has become the title for someone with expert knowledge in breastfeeding; an allied health professional who specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. They may be employed in hospitals, public health programs, and private practice.
They work with moms and babies to address breastfeeding issues and concerns. They may also teach classes, assist with establishing breastfeeding, and promote and protect breastfeeding.
Origin of the term “Lactation Consultant”
The term “LC” originated as a short form of “IBCLC” or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant because, as you can see, that term is a mouthful.
“LC” is not trademarked and does not hold a professional standard like “IBCLC” does, so one will occasionally find a practicing LC who is not an IBCLC. Consumers (mothers and families) and other professionals (doulas and doctors) need to be aware of this.
As well, not all those who work as “lactation consultants” in health centers or breastfeeding support centers are IBCLCs. Some employers encourage employees to pursue the credential but don’t mandate it for employment. Many times, nurses with some breastfeeding education fill these jobs.
Why is this IBC part so important?
The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLE) awards the title of International Board Certified Lactation Consultant to only the candidates who meet the comprehensive pathway and pass an international exam. This allows IBLCE to establish the highest standards in lactation and breastfeeding care worldwide and to certify only the individuals who meet these standards.
All the roles are important, but they provide their own distinct scope, responsibilities, and abilities. They can all work together to provide comprehensive support. One does not replace the other.
Primary roles of caregivers
As you can see, I’ve broken this down into three primary roles.
- Clinical management
Educators teach you about the normal and expected processes of childbirth and breastfeeding. They typically call themselves childbirth educators and lactation educators.
They teach the normal process of birth & breastfeeding and what you can expect when having a baby and breastfeeding, as well as encourage and promote breastfeeding to others.
This information helps you make decisions, helps you know if you are on track, gives you references for getting the birth and breastfeeding relationships you want, and helps answer your questions.
Educators typically teach community classes in group settings.
Support people are those who have additional training in supporting mother, baby, and family during crucial times: birth and breastfeeding.
They’re typically doulas and La Leche League (LLL) leaders. Doulas are usually paid professionals, and LLL is a mother-to-mother volunteer peer support group. These roles offer the encouragement and motivation you need to get through the processes of birth and breastfeeding.
They’re well versed in normal and expected outcomes. They know to watch for red flags to ensure they can guide you to further resources and caregivers if you have come outside the normal, expected process.
Their job is to provide physical and emotional support, encouraging you to ask questions of your caregivers to make sure you’re well informed about what occurs. T
hey have resources and guidelines to reassure you that you’re indeed in the realm of normal, and if things deviate from normal, they can point you in the direction of more resources. They are not health care professionals and do not perform medical tasks.
Lastly, we have the clinical management professionals.
These are the folks responsible for the clinical and medical bits of the scenario. They look at the facts and figures, histories, and red flags to determine if the scenario is within the normal and expected category and making a plan from there if it not.
They are the big picture thinkers. They have the clinical experience of birth &breastfeeding that fall outside normal expectations and how to manage them.
All of these people have a place in the realm of support and care giving; what is important is that people know their role and responsibly and respect the others.
Where it becomes problematic is when the client/consumer is expecting one thing and gets another because they have the various people confused for another and their expectations are not met and they think it is because “that” person did not do their job. In the case of this article, we are really looking at how an IBCLC stands out.
Let’s say a mom thinks that a Lactation Educator is an IBCLC, and her breastfeeding issue does not resolve after a consultation. She looks for more help and calls a La Leche League leader who determines that the issue is outside their scope and needs a recommendation to an IBCLC.
When the LLL Leader suggests this, the moms says, “I already saw one and they did not help.” This hurts all of the support people. The educator gets a bad rep because she did not help, but it is the IBCLC profession that gets the bad rep because of the misunderstanding of the different roles and expectations.
And LLL could not help because the needs were not within their scope. Moms need to know with some clarity what their expectations are and who the best person is to meet their expectations based on role, scope and experience. (Written by Kim Smith)