Breastfeeding isn’t always easy so if problems arise, who can you call? The first point of contact for breastfeeding help is often a midwife, health visitor, doctor or paediatrician. However, breastfeeding training and experience can vary widely among health professionals, for some it may have been as little as half a day. Other helpers specific to breastfeeding in the United Kingdom (UK) include peer supporters or breastfeeding buddies, breastfeeding counsellors and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs), but who’s who?
Peer supporter or breastfeeding buddy
A peer supporter is usually a woman who has breastfed her own baby, she will have had 16-36 hours breastfeeding education and will encourage and support basic breastfeeding issues under supervision. She will usually be a volunteer but may be employed by the local National Health Service (NHS). Difficult problems will be referred to a specialist.
A breastfeeding counsellor will have been accredited by the breastfeeding charity they work for. Some charities are international e.g. La Leche League International (LLLI) has branches in many countries. In the UK breastfeeding charities include The Breastfeeding Network (BFN), the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM), La Leche League Great Britain (LLLGB), and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT). A breastfeeding counsellor will be an experienced breastfeeding mother who has breastfed her own baby for at least six to twelve months. On average they will have had two years part time training in breastfeeding education. Breastfeeding counsellors are usually unpaid volunteers and will support mothers with common breastfeeding problems with referral to further professional advice as needed. The National Breastfeeding Helpline is a telephone support line run by breastfeeding counsellors from ABM and BFN in the UK.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
An IBCLC is highly qualified. They can help with complex breastfeeding situations, high-risk babies, oral assessment and more. IBCLC is the only internationally recognised professional breastfeeding qualification. It is awarded by The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE); the examining body. Before sitting the IBCLC exam, candidates must demonstrate extensive clinical experience (1000 hours) and advanced lactation education (at least 90 hours). They must be a healthcare professional or have completed education in 14 health science subjects and they must abide by Professional Standards1. Every five years an IBCLC must show they have kept up-to-date with evidence based information and clinical skills.IBCLC is the only internationally recognised professional breastfeeding qualificationClick To Tweet
Breastfeeding peer supporters, breastfeeding counsellors or IBCLCs are the main breastfeeding support choices in UK. However, in other countries there may be further support choices available below the level of IBCLC. The United States Lactation Consultant Association has a summary of Breastfeeding Support Credentials available in the USA.
Why hire an IBCLC?
An IBCLC holds the highest qualification in breastfeeding and has extensive knowledge about breastfeeding, Amber McCann explains:
Why hire an IBCLC? Families who seek the help of an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) get the gurus of breastfeeding knowledge and support. If you had a toothache, you would seek the care and advice of someone who is an expert on teeth, your dentist; if you were concerned about your heart, you’d find the most qualified, expert cardiologist. An IBCLC is an expert on breastfeeding. By finding one as you begin breastfeeding, you equip yourself with the very best support available.
The International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) is the international professional association for IBCLCs and explains why IBCLCs offer the highest standard of breastfeeding care:
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants are:
- Recognized the world over as possessing the only standardized, board certified lactation credential available
- Knowledgeable about up-to-date evidence-based practices in lactation as demonstrated through a rigorous exam process
- Experienced in a wide variety of complex breastfeeding situations
- Competent to assist mothers with establishing and sustaining breastfeeding, even in the midst of difficulties and high-risk situations that can arise
- Sensitive to the needs of both mothers and children as they work to help mothers meet their breastfeeding goals
- Ethical in their practice, abiding by Standards of Practice and a Code of Ethics and working within a defined Scope of Practice
Is there a fee?
Some IBCLCs work in hospitals but many IBCLCs are in private practice and fees will be payable for a breastfeeding consultation. The fee quoted will usually include:
- Preparation work such as plotting your baby’s weight chart and looking up any drugs the mother may be taking or researching specific medical situations
- Travel time and mileage within a certain distance of the IBCLCs home or office
- A 90 minute to two hour home visit or office consultation where a thorough medical history for mother and baby will be taken, the baby’s tongue action and breastfeeding technique will be assessed, the mechanics of breastfeeding and milk production will be explained, and a plan of action will be put in place to get breastfeeding back on track
- A care plan and/or written report explaining everything that has been discussed
- A letter to your doctor where appropriate, to inform your heath professionals of the care plan, or to ask the doctor’s opinion about any medical concerns
- Full email/telephone support for a set period of time following the visit is often included which allows the practitioner time to assess if the care plan is working and make changes if needed.
Lactation consultant Rachel O’Brien further discusses the costs involved in an IBCLC home visit in Breaking Down the Price of IBCLC Home Visits.
Find an IBCLC Internationally
IBCLCs can be found in the following directories:
- Find a Local IBCLC Lactation Consultants of Great Britain
- Find a Lactation Consultant (Internationally) International Lactation Consultant Association
- IBCLC directory on Breastfeeding Support
To check the current credentials of an individual practitioner see the IBLCE Public Register.
When looking for breastfeeding support, check that your supporter has extensive knowledge about breastfeeding. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) holds the highest qualification in breastfeeding. Depending where you live there may be a fee to access an IBCLC’s care. Find one who will spend the time needed with you one-to-one to cover every aspect of your breastfeeding history, put a care plan in place, and continue to support you until breastfeeding is back on track.