True Confessions of a Lactation Consultant
When Jennifer Lezak heard a lactation consultant call formula the “f” word, as if it were a shameful secret, in response to her sister having trouble with breastfeeding, she knew it was time to take action.
“I had always assumed that breastfeeding was an easy, natural process, but was surprised when (my sister) experienced feeding issues and low milk supply,” Lezak explains. “I saw the struggle she went through to make it work and the guilt she felt when it didn’t. When a lactation consultant she saw referred to formula as the ‘F’ word, I knew that more compassionate support around new mothers was needed.”
So with her family’s support, she set out to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and founded Milkmaid LA, an organization dedicated to sharing important feeding resources while providing a supporting and non-judgmental environment for families. Lezak, who will be a special speaker at our Club Momme SpringFest on April 9 at The Fig House in Los Angeles, recently shared what she feels are some of the biggest challenges, myths and stereotypes about breastfeeding.
What’s the biggest struggle that you see in breastfeeding mothers and babies as a lactation consultant?
“I think one of the biggest issues I see is that most new moms aren’t prepared for the amount of work having a newborn is, especially when you’re exclusively breastfeeding,” Lezak points out. “While most moms have a family support system around them, it is ultimately up to them to provide nourishment for their little one and it can be a daunting task. I think the more prepared you are before the baby arrives the more successful you will be.”
What do you wish more mothers knew about breastfeeding?
“In the beginning it can be a non-stop 24 hour a day job. I think a lot of new mothers panic because it seems like all their baby wants to do is nurse and they interpret that as them not having enough milk to fill up their baby, when in fact babies are designed to eat frequently and want to be on their mothers all the time. I think once they realize that is normal baby behavior and they can trust themselves to know what is best for their baby, things tend to fall into place.”
How can private practice lactation consultants help mothers?
Lezak operates as a private practice lactation consultant, which means that she actually goes into mothers’ homes to help them with breastfeeding. “It’s the most comfortable way to learn the art of breastfeeding,” she notes. “I help with many different issues from low milk supply, sore nipples, tongue tie, positioning/latch and what to expect from infant growth stages. But mainly I’m an all over support system you can lean on. I try to make myself available to my clients whenever they have a question or concern no matter how big or small.”
The nice thing about a private practice is that mothers can call her anytime, as they need her, even during those middle-of-the-night feeds. “I know if they’re awake and emailing me at 3:30 a.m., they are likely feeling desperate and I want to be there to help support them,” Lezak says.
Have you ever encountered any problems breastfeeding?
Lezak, who has two sons ages 2 and 4, called breastfeeding her first son one of the most “enjoyable” experiences of her life, but wasn’t immune to a few challenges with her second. “I got poison ivy all over my body when he was a few months old,” she explains. “The itching was so terrible I had to take medication and it almost dried up my milk supply. I ended up having to combo feed him with breastmilk and formula. So I know first-hand what it’s like to have a low milk supply and have to struggle and pump to increase it. It was my support group of moms that helped me through. Other women make you stronger when you let them into help.”
When should a mother call in a professional for breastfeeding help?
“I think a mother should call a professional if they are experiencing nipple pain, low milk supply, baby not gaining enough weight, pumping issues, just to name a few. Sometime people just call me to come and make sure they are doing the right things. Reassurance can go a long way in helping you to relax and enjoy this experience.”
Does insurance ever pay for in-home lactation visits?
“Under the new Affordable Care Act everyone is entitled to have coverage for Lactation Consultant visits. That being said I don’t think the insurance companies have figured out how to comply with the law yet. From what I can tell, there is a lot back and forth and most people give up rather than trying to deal with their insurance. I think it’s a shame because it’s such a valuable tool that should be covered but sometimes isn’t. I believe it will get sorted out eventually but it will take some time before that happens.
Currently, I provide my clients with a Superbill that they can try to submit to their insurance company for reimbursement.”
Be honest—do lactation consultants secretly judge formula-feeding moms?
“I personally never judge anyone for their decisions on how they want to feed their baby. I educate people to the best of my ability but after that I am there to help them meet their goals, whatever they may be. If it’s breastmilk, formula, combo-feeding, nursing for one month or one year, all mothers deserve the support and education that best help them take care of their little ones.”
Bottom line, Lezak sees her professional work as a lactation consultant as an extension of her parenting philosophy that all mothers need a helping hand sometimes.
“Being a new parent is hard work,” she says. “I think it’s important for moms to try to find a community that is supportive of their goals. It really does take a village.”
Come hear Jennifer Lezak speak at our Spring Family Fest on April 9th in Los Angeles.
Lezak is part of the afternoon Ergobaby Mama Panel: “You’ve Got This: Cultivating A Healthy Pregnancy and Postpartum Shift” The panel includes OBGYN Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, MD of Women’s Care Of Beverly Hills; Midwife: Debbie Allen ND, LM; Pediatrician: Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, FAAP.