Monday, August 19, 2013

Lactation Consultants: Giving Mom and Baby a Great Start

Kris Ecker, RN, IBCLC
     Among the many decisions parents must make, whether to breast-feed or bottle-feed your baby is an important and personal choice. Experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants, but breast-feeding can present a challenge for many women. Lactation consultants, members of a hospital’s maternal-child health team, visit all mothers who express interest in breast-feeding. They often transition moms from “this is too hard” to “I can do this.”

     Lactation consultants are typically registered nurses, midwives or physicians who are trained in breast-feeding management and care. Most of the Meritus Medical Center lactation consultants are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and pass a rigorous examination that allows them to promote breast-feeding and help mothers prevent and solve breast-feeding problems.

What do lactation consultants do?

     Kris Ecker, RN, IBCLC, often steps in to identify issues that affect breast-feeding. ”During hospitalization, we can observe the baby while breast-feeding and adjust positioning, examine the mother’s breasts and nipples and determine whether the baby is latching on correctly,” says Kris.

     Lactation consultants also educate mothers and family members on the benefits of breast-feeding and its challenges, offer tips to overcome these challenges and instruct mom on building and maintaining a strong milk supply. They also provide guidance on pumping and how to continue to breast-feed after returning to work.

     “We really act as a resource. There are some misconceptions or myths that can cause a mother to prematurely give up breast-feeding,” explains Kris. “My goal is to educate and assist women in reaching their goal in breast-feeding.” Meritus Medical Center’s lactation consultants also see moms or babies who are re-admitted to the hospital and help them smoothly transition back to breast-feeding after separation during hospitalization. They can also provide information on breast-feeding and the compatibility of certain medications or medical treatments.

A primer in breastfeeding
     Kris encourages new moms to attend Meritus Health’s free breast-feeding support class one month prior to giving birth. “The worst time to teach breast-feeding is the three days after a baby is born. That’s when mom is tired and overwhelmed,” emphasizes Kris. After completing a breast-feeding class, a nursing mother and lactation consultant can then focus on problem-solving versus teaching during hospitalization.

All in the family
     Husbands and relatives can support mom and her choice to breast-feed by cooking meals, holding the baby while she naps, cleaning pump equipment and performing other household chores. “Simply act as a cheerleader and support her emotionally,” says Kris. To help dads understand the benefits and challenges of breast-feeding, Kris recommends that dads attend the breast-feeding class too.

     Kris explains that the first two weeks of breast-feeding are challenging. Many moms face sleep deprivation, sore breasts and concern whether the baby is latching on and getting enough milk. “Once you make it past those weeks, breast-feeding is so much easier and rewarding. But like anything else worthwhile, you have to stick with breast-feeding in order to get good at it,” says Kris.

A worthy cause
     Breast milk protects babies from illnesses such as diabetes, asthma and allergies and improves digestion. For mom, breast-feeding lowers the risk of diabetes and certain cancers as well as helps her lose the baby weight. Breast-feeding also eliminates bottle washing and buying expensive formula. Best of all, breast-feeding enhances mother-child bonding, relaxes mom and reinforces her mothering skills.

By: Anne Gill

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