Breastfeeding provides a baby with many positive benefits, but it doesn't always happen easily.
When a new mom feels overwhelmed by the challenge, a lactation consultant can help, according to two breastfeeding experts from Penn State Health.
"We're here to make sure new moms can get to where they want to be with their infant -- breastfeeding with ease and confidence," said Nancy McDaniel, a self-described cheerleader for breastfeeding moms. She's a registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant at Penn State Health Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pa.
She and other lactation consultants are trained to help new mothers establish and sustain breastfeeding -- even if they have medical conditions or are having trouble
Nurse educator Tara Schmid said getting the newborn to latch on properly is the first challenge. Schmidt, a lactation consultant at Penn State Health St. Joseph Medical Center in Reading, Pa., said lacation consultants help moms with breast positioning so baby latches on correctly.
In the first hours and days of breastfeeding, new moms often worry their baby isn't getting enough to eat. A lactation consultant can offer reassurance.
"Moms who bottle feed can say, 'I just fed my baby two ounces.' But breastfeeding moms don't have that easy measurement for reassurance," McDaniel said. "We tell them to trust nature. And for further peace of mind, we remind them that what goes in must come out, so they should watch their baby's pee and poop."
Moms can track that with a booklet provided at some hospitals or by downloading a free app, she added.
A lactation consultant's work can continue after mom and baby have left the hospital. McDaniel typically sees moms within two weeks after delivery.
"It's not always a one-and-done visit," she said. "I've followed up with some families in person five, six times and then had additional phone consultations to reassure them."
Lactation consultants can help with many common concerns, including sore, cracked or bleeding nipples, as well as clogged ducts and mastitis, an inflammation of breast tissue that requires antibiotics. Women should call their doctor if they experience symptoms such as pain, swelling, warmth or redness in the breast, or a fever.
"We see the moms who've been asking themselves, 'Am I the only person who's struggling with this?' McDaniel said. "And I keep telling them, if you were the only person with this problem, I would not have this job."
Ideally, work with a lactation consultant starts even before baby is born. Schmid talks to pregnant women about any medical issues they might have and anything that could interfere with breast feeding -- such as a previous breast augmentation or reduction, or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
"We can discuss and plan ahead so they're better prepared when they have their baby," she said.
It's not uncommon for expectant moms to be afraid of breastfeeding. Many have heard horror stories about how much it hurts.
"I explain to them that when a mom feels pain while breastfeeding, it's actually an important signal that the baby isn't latched properly," Schmid said. "We tell pregnant women that while they can expect tenderness the first week because of hormonal changes, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt."
The March of Dimes offers more information on breastfeeding and lactation consultants.
SOURCE: Penn State Health, news release, Aug. 18, 2021