What to expect when you meet with a lactation consultant

woman breastfeeding baby in hospital with lactation consultant
Iryna Inshyna/Shutterstock

I’ve provided thousands of lactation consults as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in Los Angeles—and I often meet most of the families I work with at their first-ever lactation consultation. Many of the parents I meet in my practice are (understandably) a bit anxious: Most don’t know how to prepare for a lactation consultation, or don’t know what happens during a consultation.

The last thing parents need (especially if breastfeeding isn’t starting out the way you planned), is more uncertainty and stress. With that in mind, here’s what to expect when you meet with a lactation consultant.

Be ready to fill out forms

Prior to your first consultation with your lactation consultant, you’ll probably have a few forms to complete. If you’re seeing your IBCLC though your medical insurance (yes, insurance-covered breastfeeding support is available!) you’ll need to submit your insurance information for approval. Once approved, your IBCLC will typically have you fill out a medical intake form and sign a consent and liability release. The intake form collects basic information prior to the consult, while the consent and liability form explains your lactation consultant’s policies, reviews liability, HIPAA and grants the IBCLC permission to provide you with care. As with all forms, be sure to read thoroughly before signing. Many lactation consultants will also require a credit card to hold your appointment time.

Some preparation sets the stage for a successful lactation consultation

It’s the day of the consult, and you might be wondering how to prepare your space. If the lactation consultation is happening in your home, what you don’t need to worry about is cleaning your home for your lactation consultant. I promise you—we’ve all seen dirty dishes and laundry piles… your IBCLC will only care about providing you with the care you need.

When your IBCLC arrives, you’ll need to let them know where they can wash their hands. If you have pets, it’s best to secure your pets outside or in another room for everyone’s safety. If you have a toddler, you may want to ask another adult to be present so you can focus on the baby and your consult. Some parents like their partner or a support person to attend the consult with them. I love when both parents attend a consultation together! Many couples find having both parents there very helpful. If your partner can’t attend, you may want to consider inviting a support person. On the other hand, some breastfeeding parents prefer to meet one-on-one. Do what feels best for you. You can always share the written post-consultation plan of care with your partner or support person afterward.  

Do prepare a place for your IBCLC to sit next to you during the consult. If you’re feeding the baby together, it’s helpful if this happens where you usually feed your baby. Your lactation consultant can help you best if they see your usual set-up. A chair by your couch or glider is perfect. Your lactation consultant will also need a flat, hard surface to place to their baby scale if they’ve brought one. Be sure to gather your breastfeeding supplies there as well. Your lactation consultant may want to see your pump, bottles and feeding supplies.

If your consultation will take place in your lactation consultant’s office, ask them in advance what supplies you should bring. Lactation consultants usually have lots of breastfeeding supplies in their office, but they may want to see you using your breastfeeding pillow or your breast pump. If the consultation is virtual, and you’ll be feeding together, ask if your lactation consultant needs another adult to be present to be a camera person. Recording sessions can also help between consultations.

Regardless of location, you’ll want to be dressed comfortably. If you’re doing a breastfeed together, consider wearing a shirt with easy access (example, a button-up shirt) and a nursing bra.

Your IBCLC will need to collect information, including recent baby weights, baby output (pees and poops) and a 24-hour feeding and pumping history. Many parents use apps to track this information for the first few weeks, which makes for very easy reporting!

If you plan on doing a breastfeed together, ask your lactation consultant how hungry the baby should be. Most lactation consultants will recommend a window for the last feed before your consult to ensure the baby is comfortable but ready to feed during your time together.

Lastly, be sure to make a list of any breastfeeding questions or concerns that you would like to address during the lactation consultation.

Most lactation consultations follow a similar flow

Your IBCLC will start by reviewing your intake information, obtaining medical history for both you and your baby, going over recent feeding and pumping history, discussing feeding challenges and checking in on your breastfeeding goals.

If you have any breast concerns, your lactation consultant may ask you for permission to perform a breast exam or examine the affected area. They will always ask permission before touching you, and you can decline any part of a consultation that makes you uncomfortable.

If you’re feeding the baby together, your lactation consultant will observe you latch your baby and may give you tips for improving latch or positioning. Your IBCLC will also provide you with evidence-based information and make a recommendation for a plan of care that supports your breastfeeding goals, as well as leave time for you to ask any remaining questions and confirm your comfort with the plan of care.

You’ll receive post-consultation information and support from your IBCLC

Your lactation consultant will usually leave you with a written copy of the plan of care, as well as relevant education. Some IBCLCs provide your written plan at the end of the consult, while others will send it via email or messaging app shortly after the consult.

Questions to ask your IBCLC

Here are some questions to ask your lactation consultant at the end of your consultation:

  • How will I know if this plan is working?

  • How do I contact you if I have questions about this plan?

  • What information should I provide in an update?

  • When should we follow-up next?

Remember, your lactation consultant’s role is to support you, and to help you meet your feeding goals. If you have concerns or questions about your plan of care, let your IBCLC know. If your feeding goals change, or you’d like to revisit your plan—your lactation consultant will be there to guide you, every step of the way.