Guest Post By Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC
I want to begin by giving a ton of credit to La Leche League (LLL). La Leche League is the gold standard in breastfeeding peer support groups much like a specialist achieving the IBCLC credentials is the gold standard of lactation support. I was a LLL Leader for 10 years, including some time after I became an IBCLC. La Leche League helped me learn how to mother through breastfeeding. I went to a meeting every single month for three months with my first son and left the meetings thinking: “Ok! I can do this for one more month, so I can get to the next meeting. They were my life line.” But what LLL does in addition is help empower mothers – this is the coolest part of the organization to me. La Leche League is the core of my counseling and how I practice.
Read! Read! Read! – To dig deeper into the Art of Private Practice, I always refer back to The Lactation Consultant in Private Practice: The ABCs of Getting Started by Linda J. Smith. Linda knows what she is talking about. The book is a bit outdated as our world is more tech-savy now. In reality, I text mothers more than I talk to them. There has been talk of Face Timing, though I haven’t established the virtual video chat connection yet in my practice. I don’t however, charge for the extra communication. Any texting, phone calls or emails after the initial consult is included in my one-time fee. I don’t charge by the hour.
The Importance of Follow-up – 75% of my job is playing the role of cheerleader. In order to maintain personal boundaries, I don’t answer texts after a certain time at night, though I do answer calls and texts every single day – even on Sundays. Boundaries are important! If you are not able to take a mother’s call because you are on the soccer field and you couldn’t possibly hear her, then call her back when you are able to give her ample time, energy and attention.
Making a Connection – I mentioned in a previous post about getting in touch with Pediatricians and Ob/Gyns in your area. You may ask how to do this! Well, this means making muffins, delivering flowers and walking in with a hand full of business cards or pamphlets and leaving them for the office staff (just like drug representatives do every day). I recommend repeating this during a random holiday and again during World Breastfeeding Week. Establish a relationship. Bring them lunch. Offer free breastfeeding classes to their staff during lunch. Get in front of your audience and those you want to refer your services.
Connect with birth groups, support groups, childbirth classes, maternity stores, birth and postpartum doulas, local hospitals and hospital-based IBCLCs, online forums and anyone birth related. These people and groups ARE your referrals. Your business thrives on referrals. Send thank you notes for referrals in the mail – the old fashioned way. Give a shout out to groups on Facebook for referrals. Constantly thank the people who give you work.
How do I know who to connect with? Get out an old fashioned paper map, decide on your service area and which Pediatricians and Ob/Gyns to approach. Check out ILCA.org for other private practice IBCLCs in the area and connect with them. Territory is important and if you are in an area that already has an established IBCLC, approach her first before putting out your business sign. It is important to have a community you can rely on when you are on vacation. It is important to have someone you can refer to. It is important not to fight for a service area with a reputable established IBCLC. You can be an asset to her too!
Choose the Right Name – I wanted people to know what I do. I wanted a mom to say, this lactation consultant comes to me and helps me with breastfeeding. I wanted a logo that made sense. I didn’t want to pay $200 to someone to make it. I had help and input from my husband. My goal with the S at the end of In Home Lactation SpecialistS, LLC has always been to hire more IBCLCs who go out and do the hands-on work. I think young women relate best to other young women. As I age, I hope to hand the day-to-day hands-on work to the lactation consultants I hire to do what work I do currently.
I will be very picky about IBCLCs I hire. La Leche League is my history and shaped me into the IBCLC I am. I tend to share the same philosophy as Leaders I work with. Two local LLL groups in my area refer to me with technical cases and those that are outside their scope. I appreciate the clients and the business for sure.
But what I value the most from the relationship is the reciprocal respect. I value what LLL gives every breastfeeding mother. I am not in competition with LLL. This organization does an amazing job supporting mothers. I appreciate what they can give. I don’t want to be going on home consultations when I am 50 years old. This means I have 8 short years to foster a relationship with good solid private practice IBCLCs AND grow them within my business.
The Wrap-Up – Like mothering, you need to do what works best for you, your family AND your business. This type of work can be flexible, but I do work weekends and nights in the summer so I can be home most of the day when my kids are home. This work is repetitive – do you know how many times in a consult I explain supply and demand? This work is all-encompassing when you have a mother you know would stand on her head if that would fix her problem yet you just can’t seem to put your finger on that one thing that will help her. How I run my business, facilitate my business and grow my business will not be the same as how you will. But that’s okay! This is your business. Figure out what works best for you and go with it.
Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC runs In Home Lactation Specialists, LLC. Look for her on Facebook Stay tuned for part 3 coming soon.
Are you a lactation specialist (of any kind) in private practice? Consider sharing your experience – tips, lessons learned, do’s and don’ts, challenges, etc. in Galactablog’s “Words from the Wise” series. Contact us here or at email@example.com.
2 thoughts on “Words from the Wise: The nitty gritty of starting your own private lactation practice”
Brandy, I found your article quite age-ist. I’m an IBCLC (amd have been for almost 25 years) and at 55, at my feeble old age, I still make home visits to my.l clients.
My work as an IBCLC overlapped with 23 years as a LLL leader. I spent much of my 20s and 30s *with* my .own babies, as well as running a pump station, working on the hot line at LLLI, seeing clients and mentoring other women who were interested in lactation.
You tell us a lot about what you think you *will do* in the future. You may find that finances and satisfaction from a job well done require you to keep seeing clients even after the advanced age of 50.
One gains experience and knowledge from every encounter. I think it’s a shame to hand off the work we love to others, just because we have reached an arbitrary age. I relate to my clients as well, if not better than I did in my 30s etc.
I also don’t find my work “repetitive” at all. Every new mother deserves to have the basics taught to her in a fresh way by someone who enjoys doing so.
I’m sorry, but I found myself a bit offended by the article and its age-ist slant. Maybe when you’re older and more experienced you’ll feel differently. Loving lactation consulting and helping new mothers learn the joys and overcome the challenges of breastfeeding doesn’t end at a certain age.
Thank you for your comment and for sharing your thoughts and issues with Brandy’s post. One of the aims I had in starting Galactablog is to initiate dialogue. However, I don’t believe your issue with Brandy’s post was her intended point(s). The purpose the the “Words from the Wise” series is for those in private practice to share the lessons they have learned, their philosophies, and their own experiences to allow them to guide other professionals, especially those who are just starting out.
You mentioned that, “You [Brandy] tell us a lot about what you think you *will do* in the future.” This is actually one of the intentions of this series – how those in private practice hope to shape and/or change their practice in the future. Often this is based on lessons learned, difficulties or obstacles encountered, etc. We all come from different backgrounds, different training, even live in different parts of the world, so clearly we are not all going to share the same difficulties, obstacles and even successes.
I had a private lactation practice when I lived in Beirut, Lebanon. And I can definitely speak from personal experience when I say, home visits can be physically, mentally and even financially draining. Sometimes, I’d travel over 2 hours just one way to get to a client’s home, then I’d have my 2 hour consult (only getting paid for the 2 hours I was there) and then travel 2 hours back home. Sometimes my entire day was taken up by just 1 home visit and I only got paid for 2 hours. Home visits work for some lactation consultants and of course, there are obvious benefits to home visits for clients (being seen in the comfort of their own home, we as specialists get a sense of the environment clients are trying to breastfeed in, saving those recovering from delivery trips to an office, etc.), but for some, there are negative aspects as well. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but for some.
It can take a lot of courage and effort to look inside yourself and to ask yourself, what do I love and hate about my job? What makes me happy? What causes me stress? Brandy’s desire to add more lactation specialists to her practice is her way of addressing and overcoming an aspect of her job that she found stressful. She clearly derives joy from mentoring and from a desire to train others and she’s playing to that strength by adding new consultants to her practice and taking aspiring lactation professionals under her wing via the offering of training and mentoring services.
Please don’t feel that I’m being overly critical of you, rather, I just want to emphasize the importance of open dialogue and mutual understanding.