Updated: Feb 5, 2020
I'm a Therapist (feeding, occupational, speech-language) specializing in breastfeeding and lactation. I am interested in acquiring more education and training in topics relevant to providing breastfeeding therapy. Where should I start?
Breastfeeding Support + Therapy= A Unique Skill Set!
The ability to provide therapeutic services in addition to breastfeeding and lactation support is what sets us apart from other breastfeeding/lactation helpers and from other therapists that do not have breastfeeding and lactation training. We truly have a unique skill set!
*The following courses listed are more therapy specific, rather than lactation specific. There are sooooo many courses, I realize this just scratches the surface. I'll try to occasionally update.
** I will often speak from an OT viewpoint since that is what I am and know best, but think many of these courses are relevant to other disciplines.
The first thing you want to do when considering specialized therapy training is determine what your long term goals are, what experience you already have, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. Some OTs have a very particular practice niche in mind (such as TOTs or NICU) and that will impact what courses might be beneficial. Some OTs prefer to work more on the mental health aspects of infant feeding, others oral sensory motor, and still others, more on bodywork. (And of course, if you have all the time and money in the world, than cross training/education, is beneficial as it helps you understand how to best refer out.)
Treating a DYAD
Occupational Therapists are unique in that we can therapeutically treat both baby and mother. This impacts the type of courses we might want to take.
When working with babies, OTs are able to therapeutically address a wide range/combination of needs and conditions. It is within our scope to therapeutically treat both oral motor/feeding dysfunction and musculoskeletal/ movement dysfunction as it impacts functioning and development. Additionally, we are able to therapeutically address a baby's overall development/milestone achievement, mental health and bonding, sensory motor processing, emotional regulation, sleep hygiene, and more as these all impact function and occupation! For a more detailed list of what all we can address check out this post I wrote.
Supporting Mothers/Caregivers- Maternal Mental Health is Key in Breastfeeding Support
OTs also have a unique role concerning the therapeutic treatment of mothers/caregivers. We can address BOTH their physical functioning and discomfort and their functioning in mental health and well-being. OT is deeply rooted in mental health, and a significant portion of our education and practical training focuses on targeting mental health as it relates to one's functioning in everyday life. (In fact, my first job out of school was as a mental health OT working with youth.) Of course any healthcare professional working with human beings should also consider their client's mental health, regardless of what they are specifically treating. However, it is our unique, intentional emphasis on addressing both, in our education, philosophy, and scope of practice that sets us apart! Breastfeeding support very much entails mental health work. And thus, our training in mental health is very helpful when it comes to working with mothers/families who are experiencing challenges with breastfeeding their baby (or any other challenges related to caring for a newborn and transitioning to a new role).
In the list below, for the sake of some sort of organization, I included courses for mother and baby, mental health, and more physical aspects of health. But of course, we can’t really separate the physical from the mental. Many courses also could fall into several categories, but again, for the sake of some sort of order in this article, I did my best to categorize. So check out other categories too for overlapping relevance.
Without further ado, here is a list of courses to consider to complement your Breastfeeding Therapy practice.
***Disclaimer: I cannot personally vouch for all of these courses, but if I have not taken a particular course and it is on this list it is because it has been recommended by others (online and/or personally). If you have a question about a particular course feel free to reach out! And if I'm missing a really important course please let me know.***
Maternal Mental Health
I believe that maternal (or parental) mental health is by far one of the most important aspects of treatment to consider when working with new families and breastfeeding. Quite simply, if mom isn't doing well mentally, it will impact her functioning in all other activities/occupations, including breastfeeding.
Oral motor and Feeding Therapy
These oral motor/feeding courses are truly foundational for a breastfeeding therapist!
NICU Preemie Courses
Wolf and Glass courses (both OT IBCLCs): Feeding & Swallowing Disorders in Infancy: Assessment and Management
Musculoskeletal "Bodywork" Courses, Movement and Development Courses
Susan Blum’s way of approaching body restrictions is paradigm shifting for therapists who grew up learning to “stretch”. I also love that her approach is extremely parent friendly and coachable.
Rather than create a list from scratch, Michelle Emmanuel, OTR, has put together a very comprehensive list for "Ankyloglossia Bodyworkers". While her site is geared for bodyworkers specializing in Ankyloglossia/TOTs these courses are also relevant to assisting families with breastfeeding since musculoskeletal dysfunction can impact feeding and overall development. Michelle's own courses, in the Movement and Development section are recommended by many, though I haven't yet been able to take one of her courses.
Michelle's Ankyloglossia Website - Could also be placed under TOTs section as well.
Tethered Oral Tissue Courses (TOTs)
Many feel this is a good intro into TOTs.
Tongue Tie and Oral Motor Dysfunction- Carlin Speech Seminars
Breathing impacts everything!
Ok, so what does the pelvis have to do with breastfeeding??
Not all breastfeeding therapists will want to specifically address this (but some do!). Keeping in mind that mothers are whole people, it is at least a good idea to know enough about the topic to refer out and maybe even give some basic information/lifestyle changes until mom can see a specialist (if this isn’t something you also address).
This is a great intro course for those wanting to get into pelvic health.
Herman and Wallace has both intro and advanced courses. I have only taken their online courses but their other courses are highly recommended.
Institute for Birth Healing Courses I haven't been able to take a course- but I have enjoyed a few FREE Online Summits that you can sign up for.
If mama’s hands are hurting (which is a common complication during the perinatal period) it is going to be more difficult for her to complete breastfeeding and baby caring tasks. There are free guides on this website with courses rumored to be forthcoming.
Therapeutic Breast Massage
While therapeutic breast massage might be more lactation specific, it also seems so therapeutic, as its name implies, as it is a hands on modality that relieves pain and engorgement.