Words from the Wise: Do’s & Don’ts of Running a Private Lactation Practice

Guest Post By Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC, RLC   Brandy 2

In private practice, you are vulnerable. You are entering someone else’s home that you’ve never been to before. They may know about you, what you look like, about your family and more through your website or business Facebook page; however, you know nothing about them, except that they have a baby.  Just like in your mothering, listen to your instincts.  Google the address you are heading to BEFORE the day of the consult – not on your way there. If you have any sort of “funny feeling” you can say no. This is a relationship you are beginning and you have half of the say.

Blank and DOs and DON'Ts memo papers attached with green and pink pins.

  • Do not go to a home of someone you have not talked with. If you have only spoken with a male, never heard a mother’s voice or had all contact via text with a male, don’t go to the home. I did this once.  Exactly once.  I called the midwife I was working with and told her my mistake. She said to keep my phone in my hand with 911 dialed and my finger on Send OR simply cancel the appointment.  When I arrived at the condo, there was construction on the front so a large piece of plastic was over the door. A male answered the door and to the left of the door were three pairs of men’s shoes. I insisted he go up the stairs first and my heart stopped pounding when I saw a baby swing. I should not have put myself into that position.
  • Do not go to a home you feel weird about, have a funny vibe about or just plain do not want to go to.  You reserve the right to not service a client. Listen to yourself, your instincts and heart.
  • Do not say yes to someone you should say no to. You can say no to clients just like they can say no to you.
  • Do not leave yourself in an uncomfortable position. I had a client who laughed when I was finishing our very long 2.5 hour consult when I told her I would need my fee and needed to finish with her for the day. She said, “You expect payment?!” I responded, “Yes, we discussed it over the phone and my fee is $XXX.” She replied, “You get paid through the hospital, they sent you here.” I reminded her I was not from the hospital or affiliated in anyway with the hospital. She did write me a check and I deposited it immediately.
  • Do not go to the hospital as a private IBCLC. You don’t have privileges there. You don’t belong there. Your role is in home support.

    Do not talk about your family, your kids, your schedule, your breastfeeding experience. None of that matters. This is about the mother. The very needy mother in front of you, not you. If she asks, keep your answers simple. How many kids do you have? 3 boys. How long did you nurse your boys? Over a year each. Quickly bring the subject back to her: What is your breastfeeding goal?

Blank and DOs and DON'Ts memo papers attached with green and pink pins.

  • Do wear a name tag when you get out of the car before you enter a client’s house.
  • Do introduce yourself the minute the client answers the door.  Acknowledge everyone in the room including grandparents and especially a dad. Do use everyone’s name while talking to them, including the baby’s.
  • Do have the client sign a consent form first. Every time you see her. Every client you see.
  • Do give the parents a receipt for payment and any health reimbursement forms they can submit for possible reimbursement for your services. Any time our lactation codes get in front of the insurance companies, it is an opportunity.
  • Do wear business casual WASHABLE clothes. Jeans or shorts are not appropriate. Present yourself as a business person. But be sure everything you wear can be washed due to dog hair, baby spit, baby poop, baby drool and mommy tears. wash hands
  • Do wash your hands before touching the baby!
  • Do have boundaries and KEEP them. If you decide you don’t take texts or phone calls after 8 pm, do not take a call at 8:05 pm. If you don’t work on Sundays, do not do doctor reports or go over your finances.
  • Do go on online support/help forums, Facebook pages of La Leche League, birth worker groups and such. You can get referrals this way, learn about midwives in your area and develop relationships with the people you need for referrals.

But Do NOT get anxious, nervous and distraught if you see YOUR clients reaching out for more help other than yours. Social media is a means for mothers to get support. Some mothers need a lot of support and from different sources. Do NOT question your ability if she wants another opinion or reaches out for more ideas. Just know the ONE negative comment can hurt more than three referrals or satisfied clients.

  • Do take a vacation. Change your voice mail message, and put on your vacation responder on your email. If you are lucky enough to have another IBCLC in the area you can trust, ask her if you can refer people to her for that time and leave her number on your voicemail. Birth workers give and give and give. We need to  take a break and to recharge too.
  • Do continue your education. Either through CERPS or individual study, it is important to stay up-to-date in our field. Connect with other professionals and learn from them. Enroll in online breastfeeding conferences such as iLactation and Gold Lactation.  

Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC runs In Home Lactation Specialists, LLC. Look for her on Facebook. Stay tuned for part 4 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 galactablog@gmail.com.

Words from the Wise: The nitty gritty of starting your own private lactation practice

 

Guest Post By Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC   Brandy 2


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 Getting9780763710378 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 galactablog@gmail.com.

Words from the Wise: The 5 Essential Tips to Starting Your Own Private Lactation Practice

 


Guest Post By Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC 


Brandy 2

I run what I consider a successful yet part-time private lactation practice called In Home Lactation Specialists, LLC. That being said, I am currently working on hiring IBCLCs that do the same consulting I do to cover more service area. I adore my job and truly know that it is my calling in life. However, I am also called to be a Lutheran Pastor’s wife, soccer mom to three growing boys and woman of interest. As such, my private practice is part-time and thus my income is too.

I currently live in Troy, Michigan which is a middle class suburb 8 miles north of Detroit. I am one of about three IBCLCs who are in private practice in my surrounding area. My service area includes all of Oakland County and surrounding cities. I do not have an office. I visit every mother where she is most comfortable – in her own home. I would see more mothers if I did have a central office but I wouldn’t be doing my job well or in the way that I am marketing myself.  I travel no further than 30 miles one way from my home. I can see 3-4 families in their homes in one day, a very busy crazy day. Before we moved here five years ago, I started my business in Fredericksburg, Virginia which is less populated. The demand was minimal for my job.  I am not an RN, nor did I want to be one, and that was my first barrier to work in a hospital setting. I needed to find my niche. And in Troy, Michigan I did.


The following are things that I learned are necessary components of a successful private lactation practice:

Let me first start by saying:  I am not able to serve as a mentor to anyone sitting for the IBCLC exam, wanting to start their own private practice, needing clinical hours, or be a shadow. The work I do is flexible for my family and the families I work with. I get weekly inquiries about what I do and how I do it and I tell everyone step one is to become IBCLC certified. So, step 1 is:

  1. Become IBCLC certified. Check out the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) – the actual international board that accredits lactation consultant and the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA) for more information. See here for a detailed explanation by ILCA of what an IBCLC is.
  1. Charge a legitimate fee and stick to it. Research the area you live in and set a price. Talk to other IBCLCs already established in the area. Poll forums on line. You need to know what your mothers will be willing and able to pay. You put in a lot of time to be certified, you should charge for that knowledge and time. You are valuable. Decide if and what you should charge for a visit, an hour, travel time, follow-ups, emails and texts. You will

    Brandy 1

    Katey with Baby Beck – together with Brandy’s help, they continued to breastfeed for 20 months.

    need to decide what works for you and the area you are serving. I charge by visit and my consults are usually no longer than 1.5 hours – babies and moms work hard when I am with them. And in private practice, you need clear boundaries to be a good support to mothers but not let every mom be all consuming to your mind and move into your family or off time.

  1. Read The Lactation Consultant in Private Practice: The ABCs of Getting9780763710378 Started by Linda J. Smith and get to work. The book may be dated but honestly, it is really really good stuff. READ IT. LEARN IT. Mine is folded, highlighted and used to its fullest. I pulled it out the other day to review a couple things.
  1. Make yourself known to the people who matter. I cannot stress enough how very important it is to get your name, business and what you do into the hands of those who refer you: PEDIATRICIANS and OB/GYNs! Everyone likes mail, the kind that shows up on paper in the form of a card or letter in the mailbox. Personalize your letter to everyone you want to know you. Then, walk into those offices like a pharmaceutical representative. Introduce yourself; bring flowers or goodies and plenty of business cards to leave behind.
  1. Business Basics. Of course, you need the business basics: your name, branding, website, social media, to establish an LLC, get an Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS, open a SEPARATE business checking account than your family’s and apply for your NPI. Order your business cards, postcards and marketing stuff. (I use VistaPrint). That is all business related and necessary. But don’t get hung up on it and don’t spend a lot of money on it. Get a scale, but not the best on the market. Women trust stepping on scales and then stepping on the scales with their babies in arms if they are worried about their baby’s weight. You do not need the $600 scale. Figure out how you will keep track of your clients. However, it doesn’t have to be electronic, an app or complicated. Find out what works for you and use it. I use Excel to keep track of how many clients I serve monthly and yearly, how much I charged, how many miles I drove and who referred them.

It is a whirlwind, I know and this is just the tip of the iceberg for the successful private practice. Stay tuned for more tips in part 2!


This is a guest post from Brandy Walters, BBA, IBCLC, she runs In Home Lactation Specialists, LLC. You can find her on Facebook here. Look for part 2 coming soon.


Are you a lactation specialist (of any kind) in private practice? Consider sharing your experience – tips, lessons learned, challenges, etc. in Galactablog’s “Words from the Wise” series. Contact us here or at galactablog@gmail.com.