A lactation consultant is a certified health professional who specializes in breastfeeding issues. They can help parents and infants with issues like milk supply, sore nipples and breastfeeding positions. Some lactation consultants work with hospitals and birthing centers, while others have private practices.
A lactation consultant is a health professional who specializes in breastfeeding (chestfeeding). Lactation consultants undergo specialized training and certification to offer support, advice and guidance to people who chose to breastfeed. Lactation consultants can help with painful nipples, milk supply, breastfeeding positions and other common nursing problems.
Lactation consultants are usually needed during the first few weeks of your baby's life when they're still learning how to feed from the breast. Lactation consultants can help anyone — first-time parents, surrogate mothers or parents who've already breastfed several children. You can visit a lactation consultant while you are still pregnant, right after you give birth or several months into breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is a personal decision; however, studies show that challenges such as painful nipples and milk supply are factors in a person's choice to stop breastfeeding. A board-certified lactation consultant is trained to work with infants and their parents to solve any feeding challenges they are experiencing and improve a parent's chances of breastfeeding for as long as they choose.
Most nurses, midwives and physicians have training in breastfeeding and can offer help, especially after delivery. Some people undergo training to be lactation specialists or lactation counselors. It's OK to receive breastfeeding help from all of these individuals; however, a board-certified lactation consultant describes someone who has achieved a specific certification.
The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) certifies lactation consultants who meet its rigorous criteria and pass its exam. An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant may use IBCLC or RLC after their name. IBLC's complete:
This is considered the most well-known and renowned certification for lactation consultants.
Breastfeeding can be difficult — both emotionally and physically. Sometimes a lactation consultant's best quality is being a source of emotional support and encouragement. The first few weeks of your baby's life are the most important time for establishing breastfeeding. Your lactation consultant can work with you and your baby to increase your chances of having a long and successful breastfeeding experience.
A lactation consultant is specially trained and certified to help you with any problems or concerns you have related to breastfeeding your baby. They can offer reassurance and troubleshoot specific issues with you. Some things you can expect to learn from your lactation consultant are:
A lactation consultant works with you to understand your goals for breastfeeding and helps you put together a plan, while also answering any questions you have. Lactation consultants work best when they can touch your breasts and nipples and see how your baby is latching. However, some people still find success doing virtual consultations.
Some hospitals have lactation consultants on staff, while others do not. If you aren't sure if your hospital sends a lactation consultant to your room after you give birth, talk to your nurse or healthcare provider. If your hospital or birthing center doesn't have a lactation consultant on staff, you can hire a private lactation consultant to visit you during your hospital stay. Labor and delivery nurses are also helpful and knowledgeable about breastfeeding and can offer support until a lactation consultant is available.
Every hospital, birthing center and lactation consultant is different. However, there are fairly standard things you can expect from your visit with a lactation consultant.
You can expect your lactation consultant to:
The cost to see a lactation consultant varies depending on where you live, what services you need and what kind of insurance you have. Some hospitals include a visit from a lactation consultant as part of your care. Other times, mothers need support beyond what their insurance will pay.
It's best to call your insurance company directly to understand if visiting a lactation consultant is covered under your specific plan. You should specify if your lactation consultant is on staff at the hospital or your pediatrician's office, as those are more likely to be covered. Some insurance plans require preauthorization from your physician. Lactation consultants in private practices are less likely to be covered by insurance. Be sure to understand what is covered and what is not covered so you are not surprised.
Some lactation consultants work with hospitals, birthing centers or pediatricians. They can often visit you just after you've had your baby or when you're visiting your child's pediatrician. In some cases, lactation consultants are nurse practitioners who complete their certification. Lactation consultants can also have a private practice or own their own business.
Check with your healthcare provider or pediatrician to see if a lactation consultant is on staff or available to you. You can also look on the ILBCE website to locate a consultant in your area. There are thousands of ILBCE-certified consultants in the United States alone. You should also contact your insurance company beforehand if you plan on submitting a claim for a lactation consultant through your insurance.
Prepare a list of questions before your visit with a lactation consultant. Some questions may be unique to you and your baby; however, some common questions a lactation consultant is asked are:
If you are interviewing a lactation consultant prior to giving birth, talk with the lactation consultant in a comfortable environment to see if your personalities are a good fit. Some questions to ask are:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If you choose to breastfeed your baby, lactation consultants can support you and answer your questions. Breastfeeding comes with a unique set of challenges, but a certified lactation consultant will help you and your baby with any feeding issues you have.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/30/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.