Helpful Skills of Breastfeeding Counselors

Welcome to the Women’s Health Blogfest featuring posts from registered dietitians and lactation professionals. First I want to share how breastfeeding counselors use their unique skills to help support breastfeeding mothers. At the end of this post, watch for links to other participating bloggers!

It’s true of nearly any profession. The keys to success are not technical knowledge or even years of experience. As I law student, I was not asked to memorize all the rules of federal, state, and local law. That would be impossible! Instead I was taught how to get at the heart of an issue and how to research and interpret the applicable laws. As a parent, I don’t need a Ph.D. in psychology or years of mothering under my belt. Mainly I need a sympathetic ear and a few resources, friends, and experts to consult. The same is true as a breastfeeding support professional. The most important skills for breastfeeding support are listening, identifying the real issue, and knowing how to find the answers. Sure it would be wonderful to have an encyclopedic knowledge of lactation, but such knowledge won’t get a lactation professional very far if she cannot discern that when a mother says:

“I don’t have enough milk” she often means “My family members want to feed the baby a bottle.” or
“I need to know how to wean my baby” she often means “I’m [going on a trip/need to take a medication/am in pain] and want to continue breastfeeding if it’s possible.” and
“Are there just some women who cannot breastfeed?” she often means “I want your permission to wean.”


Offering effective support. Photo by Shlomit Wolf.

Offering effective support. Photo by Shlomit Wolf.

A good lactation consultant, volunteer breastfeeding counselor, or medical professional knows to ask lots of questions and actually listen to the answers. Before jumping in with advice or information, it’s best to offer sympathy, reflect back what the mother is saying so that she knows she is being heard and understood, and make certain what it is the mother really seeks. Only then can the right kind of support, information and advice be offered.


I might not know off the top of my head whether a specific antibiotic can be taken safely while breastfeeding, but I know how to consult LactMed and Medications and Mothers Milk: A Manual of Lactational Pharmacology. I also know how to share the correct information with the mother, reassure her that the doctor who told her she needed to wean in order to take the medication was mistaken, and offer ideas on how the mother can talk to that doctor about continuing to breastfeed while taking the medication.

Offering Empathy and Guidance

Sometimes the best response is not:

“Here is my advice.” but “That must be so difficult.” and not
“The answer is….” but “I will be happy to find out for you.” and not
“You should….” but “Here are some of your options.”

Only when a mother feels heard and understood has the lactation counselor succeeded at breastfeeding support.

Your Experience

Was a lactation consultant or breastfeeding counselor particularly helpful to you, and if so, how? If you are a lactation professional, what do you consider your most valuable skill?

Other Carnival Participants

Angie Tillman, RD, LDN, CDE – You Are Beautiful Today
Anthony J. Sepe – Women’s Health and Migraines
Ashley Colpaart – Women’s health through women
Charisse McElwaine – Spending too much time on the “throne?”
Danielle Omar – Yoga, Mindful Eating and Food Confidence
Diane Preves M.S.,R.D – Balance for Health
Joan Sather – A Woman’s Healthy Choices Affect More Than Herself
Laura Wittke – Fibro Study Recruits Participants
Liz Marr, MS, RD – Reflecting on Family Food Ways and Women’s Work
Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD, NSCA-CPT – Healthy Women, Healthy Business: How Your Health Impacts a Powerful Business
Marsha Hudnall – Breakfast Protein Helps Light Eaters Feel Full
Michelle Loy, MPH, MS, RD – A Nutritionista’s Super Foods for Super Skin
Monika Woolsey, MS, RD – To effectively work with PCOS is to understand a woman’s health issues throughout her life
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog – How breastfeeding helps you, too
Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, LD – Four Keys to Wellness, Just for Women
Renata Mangrum, MPH, RD – The busy busy woman
Robin Plotkin, RD, LD – Feeding the Appetites of the Culinary, Epicurious and Nutrition Worlds-One Bite at a Time
Sharon Solomon – Calories, longevity and do I care
Terri L Mozingo, RD, CDN & D. Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN of One Source Nutrition, LLC – Crossing the Line: From Health to Hurt
Wendy Jo Peterson, RD – Watch Your Garden Grow

Share This Post:
    • Amber

      I am a volunteer breastfeeding counselor, and most of the time I feel it’s just my job to listen and provide emotional support. There are a lot of people who undermine a new mother’s confidence. Often they are well meaning and don’t intend to do any harm, but they ask questions that cause concern or they believe that they know the right thing to do, even though that ‘right thing’ may be at odds with a mother’s desire.

      So my most valuable skill is to help a mother find her own answer. Then support her in that answer. Most of the time they don’t need a lot of technical information, they just need a listening ear, a few ideas, and the confidence to trust their own instincts. I think this is pretty much the same thing you’re saying. We don’t really need to be ‘experts’, we just need to listen.

    • Liz Marr, MS, RD

      Thanks for sharing your insights on breastfeeding counseling. I’m teaching undergraduate introductory nutrition, so it’s always helpful to hear about clinical experience.


    • Monika Woolsey


      Thank you so much for participating in the blogfest! I am in the process of becoming better networked with lactation specialists because of my specialty in PCOS and the lactation issues that can create. So I am eager to know is out there to connect and collaborate with.

      I hope we brought you some new readers…and that our paths cross again in the near future.

      Monika Woolsey

    • Marsha @ Green Mountain at Fox Run

      I did call a lactation consultant w/ my first child, and she was so helpful. Reassured me. Calmed me down and things went great from there. So glad folks like you are out there.

      Glad to meet you in the blogfest, too.

    • Renata

      I’m glad you participated with us. Even as a dietitian, we need to know when it is needed to refer a client to someone else who is more specialized, but it has got to start with listening! I admire how breastfeeding counselors work and interact so well together, whether they are peer counselors or IBCLEs.

    • psumommy

      Wow, I wish the breastfeeding counselor I talked to during a scream fest with my first had read this article! My 3-day-old baby was screaming, my milk had come in and she couldn’t latch on (I discovered years later that I have an oversupply and strong letdown issues, too). I called the hotline at about 3am, crying because I didn’t know what to do. The first thing out of her mouth was “Well, you have formula in the house, right?” And tried to tell me I wasn’t making enough milk. I ended up learning online that same night how to hand-express enough to get my daughter to latch on.

      I did have one excellent LC with my 2nd child, thank goodness. She knew exactly what I was talking about when I called, and gave me some excellent advice that I still pass on to friends who come to me with breastfeeding problems! I wish I’d known her when I had my first.

    • Marjorie Geiser, MBA, RD, NSCA-CPT

      Great specialty, Angela! This brought back many memories of my days of breastfeeding. My kid (who is now 29) never slowed down and I still remember the lactation expert I called who reassured me back then.

    • Anthony Sepe

      Hi Angela,
      Thank you for participating in the blogfest. As a dietitian who has worked for WIC in the past, I am someone that supports the breastfeeding mom and those that are considering breastfeeding. You have a very nicely done post!

      My continued best wishes,
      Anthony Sepe

    • Stephanie Gable, RN, IBCLC

      Hi, I am a Lactation Consultant in a Hospital setting and I have to say that routinely mothers who come in planning to breastfeed will press their call light and ask for bottles of formula and their nurses take it to them without ever asking “how is the breastfeeding going?” or “May I help you”? One mom came in and stated “I want to pump my milk”. The nurses insisted that she did not want to put her baby to breast. “She pumped with her last one” was what I was told. When I visited her room and asked her had she considered nursing her daughter she stated “I would love to. That would be so much easier than pumping and feeding it to her, but my last baby wouldn’t latch on so I just figured she wouldn’t either”. Needless-to-say, she is exclusively nursing her daughter.
      I have learned in my years of helping mothers and their babies that intuition is one of the most valuable tools necessary. Listening to the mother first, then listening to that inner voice that helps me figure out what she is saying and not saying, so that I can help her be successful
      Thanks for your comments Angela regarding listening. It is indeed extremely important.

    • Angela White, J.D., breastfeeding counselor

      “The confidence to trust their own instincts” — yes! I agree with you. It’s sad how first-time mothers are especially vulnerable to having their own good instincts undermined.