Support Group or IBCLC: What's the Difference?

When a mom is looking for breastfeeding assistance, it can often be difficult to know where to get this help and from whom.  There are so many options…. Facebook, breastfeeding support groups, lactation consultants… where to go can be confusing, especially if she feels like she needs to get help immediately!

So, what is the difference between the breastfeeding help you will get at a support group and at a private lactation consultant visit?



What you can expect at a breastfeeding support group:

Let me preface this by saying that not all groups are the same and it really depends on the level of expertise of the person running the group and how busy the group is.  There are different levels of experience and training in the field of lactation, depending on how many hours a person has spent in class and in an internship.  The level of expertise are demonstrated by the letters that follow the person’s name (IBCLC, CLC, CLE, etc), which is all explained in this fantastic article, What’s the Difference Between LC, IBCLC, CLE, etc?

At a breastfeeding support group, you will find a leader who is there to offer general breastfeeding assistance and support.  This leader can assist with positioning and latch (although often times this leader will not be able to actually touch you or the baby), basic information about normal breastfeeding/pumping strategies, normal baby feeding patterns, normal baby weight gain, breast and nipple care, and ways to maintain and protect your milk supply.  Often times there is a scale where you can weigh your baby before and after a feeding to see how much your baby is taking in (which is AWESOME!)  Attendance at the support group can range from a few moms to over 20, depending on how big the space is and how well attended the group is.  Support groups are often free, depending on where you live.  Support groups are fantastic for getting basic breastfeeding support, getting help while you wait for an appointment with an IBCLC, meeting other breastfeeding moms in your community, and practicing breastfeeding outside of your home.  

What you will not receive at most breastfeeding support groups is a personalized plan of care for difficult breastfeeding situations.  To create a personalized plan of care, a mother and baby’s medical history need to be discussed, as well as mom and baby both need to be assessed, which requires a consent form.  Therefore, most advice given at a breastfeeding support group is general, not specific for mom and baby’s personal situation.  


What you can expect at a private lactation consultant visit:

If you are meeting with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), you are now moving from general advice to a personalized assessment and plan of care.  The IBCLC should conduct a suck assessment on your baby, collect medical histories of both you and your baby, assess a feeding session, and offer guidance on how to improve your personal breastfeeding experience.  


Reasons you would want to see an IBCLC rather than just attend a support group:

  • Cracked, bleeding nipples

  • Painful latching that isn’t improved with positional changes

  • Baby not gaining weight well

  • Mom’s milk has not come in by day 3-5

  • You suspect your baby has a tongue tie and/or lip tie

  • Baby has signs of colic or reflux

  • Mom has a low milk supply/supplementing baby

  • Mom has an oversupply

  • Premature baby

  • Challenges with breastfeeding multiples

Each of these situations requires that someone provides a medical assessment and advice beyond what’s normal or typical with breastfeeding, therefore, it goes beyond what a mom can seek help for at a support group.  These private visits can take place in mom’s home, in the IBCLC’s office, at an outpatient clinic, at a medical practitioner’s office, or similar places.  Most of the time these visits have a fee associated and sometimes insurance will pay for these visits.


Where you can find an IBCLC in your area:

  • Ask your friends

  • Ask your baby’s pediatrician

  • Search for a local breastfeeding coalition

  • Call the breastfeeding warm line at the hospital or ask your midwife/OBGYN

  • Ask your WIC Peer Counselor

  • Search for an IBCLC in your area on the ILCA website

  • Google “IBCLC” and the name of your town or city

  • Ask for a recommendation on Facebook

  • Attend a support group led by an IBCLC

Where have you found breastfeeding support in your neighborhood?  

Was it easy to find this support?