In honor of National Breast Feeding Month and the fact that Tricare now covers the services of Doulas for pregnant mothers, we wanted to highlight the benefits and resources that are available to you.
As always, we firmly believe that FED IS BEST, but if you are a breastfeeding mom, we want you to know know what is out there to help you succeed.
We were lucky enough to interview a Lactation Consultant, a Lactation Educator, and a Doula. Check out what they have to say below!
1. What is a lactation consultant/educator or doula?
Natalie: There are a few different routes you can take. The first is a Lactation Educator, which requires several weeks of courses and education and can teach education classes and run support groups. The other is to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant which is a 9-month-long program that includes completing 1000 hours of in-person practice before taking your exam. After that, you will need to recertify every 5 years. The Certified Lactation Consultant is the highest level of education in this field. As a Lactation Consultant (LC) we can do one on one assessments for new moms, help assist with latching and assess for potential issues with the baby like a tongue tie or lip tie. Typically you will see an LC in the hospital before you are discharged home. It is important to make appointments with them for the early weeks and continue to see them throughout your journey with breastfeeding. An LC can help with working out a pumping schedule, navigating developmental changes with your baby (i.e. baby gets teeth), can help if you get mastitis, and can be there for support with how to wean your baby off the breast at the end of your journey.
Bex: Here in Yokosuka, Japan, I run the base lactation support group for the families stationed in the Kanto Plain area (including Yokosuka, ikego, Atsugi, Yokota, and Camp Zama). We have a Facebook group, The Lactation Connection Yokosuka, which offers an instant online community, we have peer-to-peer support meetings, I bring our local experts like our hospital IBCLC and our NMCRS Traveling RN to speak to families, and I try to help families be empowered by information and learning best practices to achieve their lactation goals. My main job is to educate and support parents in need and to support pre and post-partum families
Autumn: A birth doula is a trained birth professional that helps support a laboring mom, physically, mentally, and emotionally. A companion for a mom through the laboring process, she does not replace the father but is there to help. She is trained and equipped to help mom endure labor naturally, through positions, pressure points, and different tips, and tricks. A doula is also equipped to handle different obstacles that may come during labor. When these obstacles arise, a doula can help to educate mom and dad during labor and help them make decisions regarding labor, should something not go as planned. The doula is able to be that overall support for moms. It is statistically shown that moms have a more satisfying birth, decreased chance of c-sections, and less need for interventions when a doula is present during labor.
2. How do you get connected with a lactation consultant/educator or doula?
Natalie: I encourage most moms to seek out a lactation consultant while they are in the prenatal period. Those first few days and weeks after you have your baby, you are sleep deprived, your body is hurting, breastfeeding may not be going well, and it's not something you can just wait to figure out. It would be good to have someone you know you can call. To find one in your area, you can Google search for the best option, find a La Leche League in your area, or visit your hospital website for resources. I recommend that you find one you really like, ask her questions, and know that the minute you are home, you know who you can call for support. I also recommend attending a breastfeeding support group while pregnant to set yourself up for success. That way those first weeks when you are tired and leaking and don't want to get out of your PJs, you know the vibe of the group and you know that you are welcome. Also, if you are delivering at a baby-friendly hospital, they are required to give you a breastfeeding list before you are discharged.
Bex: Our group is both online and in-person, we’re lucky enough to also have a traveling nurse and an IBCLC in our community as well as breastfeeding allies such as several of the pediatricians at our Yokosuka clinic being CLC trained, our WICO support with breastfeeding packages for families with more food available to the nursing parent, and our New Parent Support Program, Red Cross, and Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society offering breastfeeding and infant classes and support.
Times have changed for the better very recently with Tricare in regards to lactation support. Not only do they offer pumps and supplies, but most larger MTF have at least one IBCLC. And now Tricare covers certified lactation support and has a network of online and in-person assistance available to spouses and active duty. Their website has a list of IBCLC/ CLC available in-network, but if your professional doesn’t accept Tricare yet, they can easily become a Tricare preferred provider with a form you can print out online at the Tricare site.
Autumn: There are a few different ways to find us. You can call local midwives and ask them if there are any doulas they work with that they would personally refer out. You can also google search your local area to find a doula. You can visit https://www.dona.org/ to search for a certified doula in your area.
3. What education and resources do lactation consultants/educators or doulas provide?
Natalie: LCs teach prenatal breastfeeding classes- You can always check if there are any in your area. EX: I am in Southern CA, and I provide the participants with a list of local breastfeeding resources and encourage them to come to the support group to meet the other moms. Most breastfeeding classes have a book that participants receive with web resources. You can search your local Facebook groups for local breastfeeding support. I personally run an Instagram that is dedicated to lactation and do a zoom breastfeeding support group every Thursday with women all over the country.
Bex: Our group is The Lactation Connection Yokosuka and the care and assistance is aligned with La Leche League International (llli.org).
We are a fully inclusive, body-positive, safe space to help families of all dynamics reach their lactation goals to help educate parents on the mechanics of lactation and best practices to meet their goals and to educate our local community to normalize nursing and lactation. My goal is to help families get to their goal no matter what that looks like whether that’s breastfeeding, chestfeeding, combination feeding, or exclusively pumping for however long.
For the last two years, it’s been solely online due to the pandemic, but we’ve recently begun in-person support again which is very exciting.
Autumn: Every doula will vary a little bit, but most will provide one or two prenatal visits prior to the birth of their client. And hopefully, they will provide a postpartum visit. Some doulas also provide a birth class, birth education, or preparation in those prenatal visits. At the very least you will be discussing the plan for the hospital, the birth center, or wherever the mother is birthing. Some doulas may provide a worksheet, but I personally provide a notebook full of information for the mother to borrow and read up until they give birth. I also provide a small library of books for mothers to review. The education and resources really vary from doula to doula.
4. What is your favorite part of what you do?
Natalie: There are so many aspects of my job that I love but my favorite part is watching women overcome challenges and watching the confidence in feeding their babies and parenting in general. When we can give moms tools and tiny bits of help, and give them the encouragement they need to get through a hard time, it gives them the confidence that they can do hard things. Watching women grow in motherhood and their role as a mom is one of my favorite things. Being able to help them through lactation is just wonderful. Feeding your baby is a really big deal and unless you are a breastfeeding mom, it can be difficult to wrap your mind around how difficult it truly is and how rewarding and emotional it is. The other thing that I really love, is in the 8 years of running support groups, we have moms who come in as first-time moms who are struggling and we get to help them and then see them come back as second-time moms or third-time moms, and watch them navigate beautifully and watch them give the new moms encouragement and advice. We have even had women come back as lactation educators and consultants because they have loved what they have been able to do in our group and in supporting and encouraging other women.
Bex: Helping. It feels good when I can help a parent figure out an issue or get to their goal. I had my first without any lactation support and felt very alone with my spouse away on military duty while I was trying to navigate being a whole new person who is now in charge of a whole new person. It’s been a great joy over the last seven
years to see the positive changes for lactation support here in Japan and be a part of that.
Autumn: My favorite part about what I do, well there are a couple of things. First, helping women believe that they are capable and able to birth their own baby the way their body was created to. A lot of women lack that confidence, so to be able to empower them and educate them to believe they can do it, is one of my favorite parts. I also love to be able to watch them accomplish their goals. The mom's goal may not be to have a natural childbirth, but maybe I was able to be there to support and educate them and allow their goals to happen. It might just be to not have another c-section or to make it to 8cm, whatever they are working towards. Last, and my favorite part is watching them become a parent and watching the miracle of life enter this world. To be on the brink of life, and watching a baby take their first breath, is truly an amazing scene and experience to be part of.