My Journey to Becoming a Lactation Consultant
I can pinpoint the exact moment my journey to a career as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (aka an IBCLC) began: 10 PM on February 24, 2011. The second time I tried to latch my newborn son Callum—my first baby—and failed miserably. We both failed. I was clueless, despite prenatal breastfeeding class and reading several books. He angrily refused my breast with ferocious cries and surprisingly strong baby biceps.
Of course I had no idea then that I was beginning a long 180° career change. In fact, I left the hospital a few days later, fighting back terrified tears because this kid just Would. Not. Latch. It took a home visit from an amazingly skilled IBCLC two weeks later (after long days of pumping and bottle feeding) to start to get on track. That little dude and I nursed happily for 2 full years.
I headed into my second birth a little cocky. I mean, I’d breastfed for two years, so clearly I knew everything about nursing, right?! Enter my sweet Sean, on March 29, 2014, who arrived into the waiting arms of Avalon’s own Lisa Millstein and JoAnn Yates. He latched immediately and nursed like a champ for all of his hospital stay. “Success!” I thought.
Fast forward a week: cracked, bleeding nipples and I was straight up crying each time I had to nurse. So much for my “expertise.” I’ll be forever grateful that my second time was also a mess. Because it meant I was destined to cross paths with Elizabeth Devaney.
She helped me correct latching issues at her weekly support group. I began to attend regularly and religiously. A few months in, I was helping run the group. I saw how incredibly important postpartum support is for those struggling with nursing. Elizabeth’s wisdom, warmth, and knowledge of breastfeeding issues blew me away. We quickly became friends and when I said, “I want to do this too,” she offered to help and mentor me.
It’s been a long, three year journey to get where I am. My background is in graphic design, not nursing, so I had to begin with basics like Biology and Anatomy & Physiology. I helped start the North Jersey Chapter of Breastfeeding USA. I’ve attended many breastfeeding professional conferences. I run our very popular weekly Breastfeeding Support Group at Avalon (my favorite 90 minutes of the week!) And I’ve spent hours upon hours observing lactation consultations at Elizabeth’s elbow, soaking in all of her knowledge.
In December 2017, I found out I passed the IBCLC exam (yep, you bet I cried when I opened the mail that day!) In January, I began seeing clients on my own and I’m incredibly proud of the hard work I put into this journey. I’m also grateful for all the help I received to get here.
So what is an IBCLC? Known as “the gold standard for provision of breastfeeding care in any setting,” International Board Certified Lactation Consultants have extensive training in normal breastfeeding management as well as complex issues that may develop over the course of a nursing relationship. We provide accurate, up-to-date, evidence-based information. We are held to rigorous professional standards, required to continue our education, and re-certify with an exam every decade.
I am so, so honored to get to work side-by-side with Elizabeth and our dear Jen Kowal every day. At Laid Back Lactation we remember that every experience—like my own two—is unique. We support our clients with humor, warm hugs, and zero judgment. Our client relationships last long beyond the face-to-face consultation with text and phone support. We are grateful for every family we have the honor of working with.
And the icing on my delicious cake? Getting to be a part of the Avalon Wellness Center family as well!
~Special Credit to Sophie Kawalek for this stunning photograph of Allyson and her son.