Supporting breastfeeding, changing a life. An interview with Wendy Lever IBCLC.

To me, a client’s journey does not end at birth.  It is only after she has physically recovered, her baby is thriving, and any challenges around breastfeeding have been overcome that I am ever really happy to step back. Breastfeeding, like parenting, is something which we are somehow expected to just ‘know’ how to do – and I don’t think that most of us (and I include myself) are lucky enough to just be naturally brilliant at either.

I have read a million parenting books to try and be the best parent I can be. Similarly, when breastfeeding doesn’t go quite to plan, it is so important to be able to draw upon the expertise of someone who can help you navigate this massively important skill.  Breastmilk is full of the most amazing elements which support baby’s growth. Made up of water, fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and white cells, it influences the robustness of the infant’s immune system – and through this affects their mood. 60% or more of the body’s neurotransmitters are in the gut, so when the gut is right, so is the brain!

Wendy Lever is a highly trained Lactation Consultant. The IBCLC next to her name means she has done thousands of hours of study, observation and training in health sciences, and is able to not only provide all manner of support, but spot and diagnose tongue tie. Wendy provides a drop-in clinic each week in her beautiful home, and during the rest of the week provides on the phone or at-home support to mothers in need.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to ask Wendy some questions, to get to know her better, to understand more about how she works and to pick up some tips on how she juggles being self-employed with being a mother herself.

Wendy, how did you find your way to breastfeeding support?

When I had my first child eleven years ago I assumed that I would breastfeed and that it would be relatively simple to establish. However, once my daughter was born I found that I simply didn’t know where to start, and that, despite my expectations, this very natural process didn’t feel at all natural to me. Within 4 days I was in agonising pain at every feed and starting to look at my sleeping daughter and willing her not to wake up as she’d want to feed. Thankfully I sought help from a lactation consultant, who was just fabulous, and on the back of that one consultation everything turned around for me – I made the few small adjustments that took feeding from painful to comfortable and from that moment on I began to establish the positive breastfeeding relationship that I had first envisaged.

A few years later and after the birth of my second child (when I called upon the help of the same lactation consultant again), I found myself looking for a new career direction. I remembered how transformative the help of my lactation consultant had been and I began to research how I could qualify as a lactation consultant myself. I’ve now been in the field seven years and I truly love my job!

What kinds of questions from mothers do you typically encounter?

The most common question I receive from mothers are related to how they can know with confidence that the baby is eating enough and that breastfeeding is going well. There are many cues and signs that breastfeeding is going well, but at the most basic level, if breastfeeding is comfortable for you, and your baby is making at least 3-4 poos per day (until the age of 8 weeks) then chances are breastfeeding has been well established and your baby will thrive.

How do you decide whether it is appropriate to have a personal visit versus giving support by phone?

Honestly, the vast majority of my work is in face to face consultations. Breastfeeding support usually requires me to observe a feed myself and to make some hands-on adjustments. New mothers’ brains are better positioned to learn through touch and action than they are through verbal or written instructions. The only time that I give telephone support is for queries around older babies such as managing breastfeeding when returning to the workplace or integrating solid food with breastfeeding and finally gentle weaning from the breast when the time has come.

How do you juggle your family life and your busy practice? Any tips for the working mums who will be reading this blog?

A lactation consultancy practice differs from many other supportive therapies in as much as the majority of inquiries that I get are from mothers requiring urgent help for their newborn babies. This means that my schedule is usually not planned out more than 3-4 days in advance.  As a mum to school-aged children I try to fit my consultations around their school hours, but I also often work evenings and weekends (thanks to a supportive husband picking up the slack!) as babies don’t own watches or calendars and can’t wait until Monday to feed effectively.

Working in private practice does allow me a lot of flexibility to set my working hours. For example, during school holidays I endeavour to be with my children during the day and push as many consultations towards the evenings as I can. When I do need to work in the daytime during the holidays I tend to arrange reciprocal play-dates for my children so that another working mum and I can look after each other’s’ kids – allowing us both to work and to know that our children are being taken care of.  Having worked (in previous careers) in more traditional employment roles, this flexibility makes my juggling act a lot simpler than it used to be!

What is the number one thing you find yourself saying to clients? What would you like the opportunity to share with people who are reading this blog?

The most important thing that any new mother can do is to trust her own instincts when it comes to feeding her baby. Oftentimes clients will put up with pain for several weeks before calling me for help as they were told (by well-meaning friends) that they just need to “push through”. As soon as your instincts tell you that something doesn’t feel right about the feeding, then get help – the earlier we intervene the easier it is to get you back on track.

Equally, you should also trust your instincts when things are going well. It is very common for new mothers to feel disempowered and undermined by more “experienced” parents, but actually you are the expert on your baby, and if you and your baby are content and happy with the rhythm of your breastfeeding relationship then chances are everything is just great. Remember that your “just great” and your best friend’s “just great” may look very different from one another – and that’s fine and normal!

To chat to Wendy, give her a call on 0778 3507 973, or email her through her website.

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