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Top Ten Essential Books for Lactation Consultants

bookcase showing some of my top 10 books for lactation consultants

Those who know me know that I have a large- and constantly expanding- lactation library in my home office.  I can’t help it! I love learning and I love books. I love sitting down with a highlighter and a big educational non-fiction book and just going all in.  

Over the last few years, even though I’ve constantly added new texts to my lactation library, there are certain books I just keep going back to.  

You know those books that are so chock full of useful tips and information that you would carry them everywhere if you could?  If they weren’t so heavy, you bet your sweet bippy I’d be lugging these books around with me on consults and to conferences.

I always get asked what my favorite books for lactation consultants are, so I’ve decided to make it official for once and for all and provide you lovely folks with a top 10 list (plus a bonus at the end for private practice lactation consultants).

Ready?

In reverse order to build drama and suspense…

Author: Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee (LEAARC)
Audience: Lactation professionals and IBCLCs

Okay… I have a confession with this one.  It’s the only book in my list that I do NOT constantly refer to.  But when I was studying for the IBLCE exam it was indispensable. The fourth and newest edition (published in 2018) came with a new layout and a fresh new name, which is wonderful because reading the old version was like rubbing sandpaper on your forearm for hours on end.  Not a fun read, guys. But essential nonetheless.  

Author: Alicia Simpson, MS RD IBCLC LD
Audience: parents

You know as well as I do that one of the most common lactation questions is “what can I eat to make more milk?”  As lactation professionals we know that there are much bigger pieces to the milk supply puzzle but sometimes a parent just needs you to focus and answer their question.  Author Alicia Simpson is an IBCLC, a Registered Dietitian, and she has her MS in Nutrition. This book is packed with evidence-based information on lactogenic foods, but it starts with a large section on low milk supply and breastfeeding.

I like that her recipes are realistic and most of the ingredients are fairly easy to find in larger grocery stores.  Her writing is clear and calm, upbeat but not chirpy. It’s a great and educational read for you, and you can recommend it to clients with confidence.

Author: Barbara Wilson-Clay and Kay Hoover
Audience: lactation professionals

This is another text book that I found indispensable when studying to become an IBCLC, but unlike The Core Curriculum I still refer to it.  Authors Barbara Wilson-Clay and Kay Hoover have put together an amazing resource because THIS BOOK HAS CLEAR, COLOR PICTURES! So not only do you read about fascinating and gory things like partial thickness nipple wounds and abscesses, you can SEE them too!

And don’t worry, the vast majority of the pictures are of babies and nipples and breasts and aren’t gory at all.

My least favorite part of this text is that most of the photos are of Caucasian babies and parents (though you can tell that the authors have tried to represent more skin tones) so you don’t get to see, for example, what a scab looks like on a dark nipple.  This is a problem in all of medicine and it is certainly a contributing factor to poor maternal health care for Black women in the United States, so this is an area you need to do further study in.  But overall, I love The Breastfeeding Atlas and I grab it often just to double check my gut instincts.

Author: Elizabeth Brooks, JD, IBCLC
Audience: IBCLCs

Now… I wouldn’t call this one a fun read.  But we work in what feels like a weird no-mans-land between volunteer breastfeeding support and medical care.  This means that our legal duties and requirements feel pretty… mushy sometimes. If I am worried that a baby isn’t getting enough to eat and the parent isn’t following my instructions am I legally responsible?  If I rent or sell pumps am I breaking the WHO code? Can I go to a conference if it’s sponsored by a formula company? 

Luckily for us Liz Brooks (lawyer AND IBCLC) goes into her trademark level of detail to break down the IBCLC’s legal and ethical duties and even provides us case studies.  I frequently find myself grabbing this text off the shelf to look for conflicts of interest. 

Some of this book is likely outdated as the IBCLC Code of Professional Conduct has changed since it was printed- but it’s absolutely still a helpful and valuable text for you to have in your bookshelf.

Author: Elizabeth Pantley
Audience: parents

Sleep is a huge issue for new families.  Massive. Humongous. Overwhelming. And everywhere parents look these days they’re being sold on various sleep training programs that are not lactation friendly.  Of course those books say they work for breastfeeding parents… but ask any IBCLC who does home visits.  We all have stories about the babies who were “trained” to sleep through the night and then the milk supply dropped and the baby lost weight.  It happens all the time.

What I love about this book is that it assumes from the get-go that the baby is eating breastmilk as their primary nutrition.  Elizabeth Pantley explains to parents- in a very kind, soothing, forgiving way- how babies sleep, why they don’t sleep like adults, and how you can work to learn your baby’s sleep cues to help them get the rest they need while also making sure they are well fed.  It’s not sleep training. It’s not a strict set of rules that claims if it didn’t work you must have done it wrong. 

This book is wonderful for you as a lactation consultant to get a good background on normal infant sleep so you can counsel your families about what to expect, and provide them with some helpful tips.  Then when you walk into the house and see one of those sleep training books on the coffee table, you have a gentle alternative to recommend to them!

Author: Amy Peterson, IBCLC and Mindy Harmer, MA, CCC-SLP
Audience: parents

This book is written for parents but as an IBCLC I learned so, so much from it.  I do a ton of work with bottles because 98% of my clients are heading back to work full time within 12 weeks of birth.  Expecting parents to “just stay on the couch and breastfeed” doesn’t work in my world for very long, so bottles are practically a requirement even for breastfeeding families.  

Amy Peterson and Mindy Harmer have put so much work into this book with clear pictures of everything they discuss.  You’ll learn about flow rate, nipple/teat size and shape, pacifiers, “nipple confusion”… all these things that we don’t learn while studying for the IBLCE exam.  IBCLCs ask me all the time how I learned so much about bottles. Truthfully, this book is where I started learning and even though a lot of it is now out of date due to changing bottle brands and styles in the last 10 years, it’s still incredibly valuable information.  

Author: Kimberly Seals Allers
Audience: general public
Author: Jennifer Grayson
Audience: general public

There is a very specific reason that I am putting these two books together.  They are remarkably similar; both written by American journalists who breastfed and decided to do a deep dive into the socioeconomic underpinnings of breastfeeding and formula feeding in the United States.  Both books talk about politics, business, the pharmaceutical industry, and how much choice we actually have about how we feed our babies.

They will help you to understand why sometimes the choice a parent makes was never really a choice at all. They are both great books to recommend to clients who are passionate about lactation and want to know why the breastfeeding rates are so low after the initial feedings.  

So why am I telling you to read them both?  

There is one HUGE difference between these books, and it is that The Big Letdown was written by a Black womanUnlatched was written by a white woman. And if you don’t think that has any bearing whatsoever on their breastfeeding experiences and what they uncover during their research, then you REALLY need to read both books.  I’m not going to ruin any of it for you beforehand. I want you to do a good old compare and contrast like you’re back in high school. I started with Unlatched because it was published first but it doesn’t really matter which order you read them in.  Just read them both. You’re welcome.

Author: Diana Cassar-Uhl, MPH, IBCLC
Audience: parents
Author: Alyssa Schnell, MS, IBCLC
Audience: parents

Okay, sorry, here’s another twofer but this is for a different reason.  These books are on different topics but they both center on situations where a parent isn’t making a “full milk supply” due to physiological reasons.  

Finding Sufficiency discusses insufficient glandular tissue as well as how insulin resistance and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and BMI can affect milk production.  Breastfeeding Without Birthing centers on induced lactation, which is when someone who didn’t give birth can make milk for and/or breastfeed or chestfeed the baby. So for both books it’s not a matter of supply and demand- there’s much more going on than the usual “oh you just need to put them to breast more often and your supply will respond!”

So while these books are coming from different directions they both cover a portion of the lactation population that is often underserved.  And every baby should have access to human milk.

Author: Lisa Marasco, MA, IBCLC and Diana West, IBCLC
Audience: parents

I’m going to let you in on a secret.

When I was in school for my Masters degree I remember looking at this book and thinking “wow, these authors are really preying on mothers’ insecurities and making them assume they won’t make enough milk.”  I thought that before I had ever cracked open the book… and before I worked in lactation. Back when I really thought that only 5% of women can’t make enough milk for their baby. Yeah. I still cringe when I hear that made-up statistic repeated out there (and I’ll write about it… some day… it’s on my list for sure).

This book does NOT fear-monger.  It doesn’t start by assuming you have low milk supply- it starts by explaining how lactation works and how to know if you’re making enough.  It starts with simple solutions.  

And then, oh boy does it deep dive.  And I love it. Evidence-based information on the many, many, many ways you can drill down to a lactation problem and then work on fixing it?  I live for this stuff, as should all lactation consultants. This is our bread and butter!  

The topics in this book vary widely but they are all important.  One of my favorite references is the galactagogue quick reference table in the back, but it also delves into lactogenic foods and spices, pumping to increase supply, latch problems that may affect supply… all of it.  

Also… it talks about the blue Gatorade along with other popular internet suggestions for increasing milk production.  Lisa Marasco and Diana West just published the second edition this year so everything is up-to-date.

Author: Catherine Watson Genna, IBCLC
Audience: lactation professionals

Welcome to the top, folks.  You’ve made it to my #1 most important book for lactation consultants.  It’s been a bumpy ride through books about milk supply, ethics, infant sleep, and socioeconomics and we are now looking at the biggest breastfeeding wildcard of them all:

The babies.

We focus so much on the milk in this profession, but the truth is that we’re always working with at least two patients/clients.  And these adorable squishy little babies? Oh man. They’re the best. And sometimes they’re the worst.

Supporting Sucking Skills is hands-down the best resource out there for anyone working with babies who are having any sort of feeding difficulty.  Babies have all sorts of weird and wonderful quirks! You know that baby that just won’t suck on anything? Or that baby whose mouth is always hanging open?  What about my nemesis, the asymmetrical jaw? Yep, all those are in this book.

You get practical real life hands on tips for pretty much any baby issue you can encounter, along with a discussion about why the baby may be having this problem.  Lots of pictures, lots of plain English, and tons and tons of research and citations to back it all up.

I have seen Cathy Watson Genna speak at oh, at least 6 conferences at this point and I always learn something new.  This book is like having her just a phone call away to help with your really tough cases. And I think ALL IBCLCs need this book.  Hospital? Private practice? Community based? Volunteer? You need it. You just do. Read every word, twice. You will be better for it.

That’s it everyone, my top 10 books for lactation consultants!  But because I’m me I wanted to give a little bonus to those of you who are in private practice (or looking to go into private practice).  We have to know all the clinical, legal and ethical stuff but we also have to run a business, which is no small feat.

So my bonus for private practice lactation consultants is my top 2 books just for us!

Author: Linda J Smith, IBCLC
Audience: lactation professionals
Author: Annie Frisbie, MA, IBCLC
Audience: lactation professionals

There just aren’t a whole lot of books out there written for us PP IBCLCs, but I love these two.  They’re sort of similar in that they have the same subject… but ABCs was published in 2002 and Start to Strong was in 2018.  Lots of things in this world changed in that 16 year span!  

But I do still suggest you get BOTH of these books.  Yes, a whole lot about Linda’s book is woefully out of date, but even if the technology is obsolete the advice isn’t.  I poured over this book when I started my private practice. It answered hundreds of questions for me and it gave me a strong foundation for knowing how my work would pan out.    

And Annie’s book… I wish I had it five years ago.  Annie is the wizard of paperless private practice and she is the go-to for anything about charting, HIPAA, privacy policies… she has the answer to all the questions you never knew she had.  If you get this book before you start your business you will save yourself literally months of time in researching and developing systems. It’s a game changer.

So that’s it!   And yes, my top ten list ended up with 14 books on it.

Whoops.

I told you I love books, didn’t I? 

Please note: This blog post includes Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase items through Amazon after following my links above, I earn 4% of the purchase price.

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One thought on “Top Ten Essential Books for Lactation Consultants

  1. Hello! I’m in Canada and keep coming back to your blog a lot as inspiration when my Lactation classes are bringing me down haha! Not easy with at toddler at home and a full time job! ANYWAY, I have the Core Curriculum Interdisciplinary Lactation Care book and I find it very difficult to summarize (to take notes to refer to later when it’ll be time to study for the IBCLC Exam). It’s already SO bare bones/straight to the point but SO information heavy. Would you recommend the Breastfeeding Atlas as a strong foundation to study? In my classes, we use the Core Curriculum, but I’m thinking more in the months/year leading up to writing the exam (still a couple of years away for me). Thanks!

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