Monday, April 26, 2010

Do you really need to see a Lactation Consultant?

(This was first published on our FaceBook notes January 26, 2010.)

 Baby breastfeeding discreetly in a Sleepy Wrap

When I just had my first baby almost 6 years ago, breastfeeding wasn't the norm and lactation consultants were very much unheard of in Singapore. So it is no wonder why I never thought of visiting a lactation consultant at all to ask any breastfeeding related questions. Five years and two breastfed children later (with breastfeeding experience of over 4 years as well as in tandem nursing), I notice more and more of my friends and customers who are new parents seeing lactation consultants and thought it such a wonderful idea to be able to ask an "expert" about nagging breastfeeding questions we were too shy to ask our mothers or friends who never breastfed.

So is the greater availability of lactation consultants really a blessing? I think the equation actually swings both ways.

Due to the fact that more people are willing to breastfeed and understand that it is a skill to be learnt, more hospitals are prescribing the services of their lactation consultants when new mothers give birth to babies. That is wonderful, especially for new mothers who have no idea what a football hold is or a correct latch-on is like, or even what is colostrum and how it looks like.

A lactation consultant can be helpful in explaining these and checking whether a mother's milk supply has kicked in. However, the squeezing of the new mother's nipples when her breasts are sore aren't really the best way to introduce a mommy to breastfeeding. Some lactation consultants experienced or otherwise can be quite rough and squeeze quite hard (which happened with my nurse and a lot of my friends' lactation consultants), leading a new mother to associate breastfeeding with pain. Not a very good start to a successful breastfeeding journey if you ask me. For those of us who have successfully breastfed our children, we know breastfeeding with the correct latch is rarely ever painful.

Throughout these few years, I have heard various misconceptions about breastfeeding which my friends have gleaned from their lactation consultants. One common one is to have the baby breastfeed from both breasts and empty both breasts with each feed. While some babies have the stomach for it, my practical experience is it rarely ever happens. Remember how small your newborn is - how big can their stomachs be? My friend whom I used to call when I first had breastfeeding problems reminded me that the size of a a baby's tummy is really the size of a walnut. It's that small! So it is really not necessary to empty both breasts in one single feed. Remember too that sometimes babies do suckle because they get thirsty, for which they only suckle a little for the foremilk which acts like water to them.

Another common one will be switching breasts after a certain time limit. Yet another misconception. We are all different individuals with different babies and different demands for milk (and different speeds of drawing milk). Our bodies are such a miracle because they adapt and provide for our children. A better way will be to allow baby to suckle one one side until it is emptied and offer another side if they can have more. If your baby has fallen asleep, let him or her be.... because your baby is already satisfied and you will only stress yourself out by trying to stick to what your LC tells you. Only baby himself knows best if they are hungry. If they are thriving and wetting enough diapers, there is really no cause for concern.

There are so many more misconceptions out there (the above is just the tip of the iceberg) that were formed by new mothers after listening to their LCs that sometimes I cannot help but wonder if most LCs are sticking too much to a "standard" and whether they have any practical/ hands-on experience in breastfeeding. Am I then saying that seeing an LC is not useful? Absolutely not. For any breastfeeding journeys to be successful, it is important for new mothers to perhaps first understand a little more about breastfeeding and what to expect, then surround herself with people who have successfully breastfed their children. The Internet is a treasure trove for these and if you have more specific questions like checking on a baby's latch or breastfeeding problems like Mastitis, then it will be best to seek out a qualified LC to help resolve your problem.

One resource which I have found very useful will be the Kelly Mom website at for more reading and specific problem solving. And if you need a listening ear in Singapore, we have the Breastfeeding Mothers' Support Group at

And if you really need to see an LC, you have a say in choosing someone who can support you in your breastfeeding efforts, who is open and with a keen listening ear. It will definitely be a big plus too if she also had practical experience in breastfeeding her own babies.

(contributed by Pearline Foo, 26 Jan 2010)

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