Each Job Every Day: Lactation Consultants

Jane Helgesen’s journey to becoming a lactation consultant at Fairview Ridges Hospital was a personal one.

During breastfeeding difficulties with her first baby, Jane says she was unaware that anyone was available to help. She struggled to find support.

“It was devastating when I could not nurse my son beyond one month,” she says. “I made a point to learn all I could before my second baby was born and ended up having a wonderful experience. That never left me.”

While nursing her second baby, Jane found the support of her sister-in-law, who was also nursing her 5-month-old. Both were also nurses working on the same obstetrics unit at the same time, and she says that is when she knew she had found her passion.

Jane dove further into educating herself and, following moves from hospitals in Florida and Missouri, eventually found her way back to Minnesota.

“Watching an infant who was not thriving change into a chubby, well-nourished baby who is doing beautifully and seeing the parents become over-the-moon with joy and gratitude is so rewarding,” Jane says.

That transformation, however, is not always an easy one for mother and child.

Fairview Southdale Hospital’s Beth Deschneau, RN, IBCLC, says mothers can be in pain, exhausted and emotional following the birth of their babies. When difficulties arise with feeding, it can be a challenge to help mothers overcome these obstacles and not give up on breastfeeding.

“I do a lot of confidence-building and emotional support for my patients,” says Beth. “There is so much reward in helping a mother master all of these things and feed successfully. Seeing them smile and get their baby latched and fed well is so great.”

Whether due to physical, anatomical or hormonal issues, some mothers still struggle to reach their goals for nursing. These moments can be challenging, but Jane says supporting the mother throughout the process as they begin to accept the potential limitations is the key to great patient satisfaction.

“Many people assume that breastfeeding is a normal, natural and instinctive process, but it is really a time-intensive process and babies do not always do what we would like them to do in the beginning,” says Jane. “They need time and help, and that is what we are all about.”

The role of lactation consultants throughout the system can vary from site to site. While some take on the role as their full-time job, like Jane, others, like Beth, are pulled into a variety of different tasks. Their jobs can include:

  • Checking in on every new patient who is breastfeeding, including offering general education and feeding expectations for the first couple of days with a newborn
  • Visiting patients who are struggling with feeding their baby, including babies in the NICU, as well as visiting outpatients coming back with breastfeeding issues
  • Consulting with patients who were admitted for reasons both related and unrelated to breastfeeding, including those needing assistance with maintaining supply while separated from their baby and evaluating appropriate medication choices that are compatible with breastfeeding
  • Collaborating with physicians, OB nurses, office staff and other outside agencies when referrals are needed

The common denominator, and ultimate goal, remain the same, however: helping mothers get breastfeeding off to the best start possible in a comfortable, encouraging environment.

“So many times the parents are thrilled, relieved and excited that after tweaking a few things their baby starts latching easily,” Beth says. “It is such rewarding and satisfying work.”

Jane says she feels an equal sense of pride and joy in her role.

“Every day is an amazing experience,” she says. “I go home feeling grateful for such a wonderful opportunity to help these new families. I feel blessed to have the best job in the world.”

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