Cultivating and Maintaining Referral Sources for Lactation Clients


Working in lactation private practice means you’re always having to cultivate new business. You’re always going to need to find new families with new babies, that means developing a robust referral network.

Referral sources for lactation clients

Birthworkers, childbirth educators, and doulas

Professionals who are working with pregnant and birthing families can be an incredibly deep source of referrals. Consider hosting a networking event as a service to the birth community in your area, and as a way to make valuable connections of your own.

Physicians and specialists

Any physician or specialist caring for pregnant people and babies in your area is a valuable source of referrals. These include:

  • Pediatricians

  • Midwives

  • Obstetricians

  • Breastfeeding medicine specialists

  • Oral surgeons

  • Otolaryngologists (ENTs)

  • Occupational therapists

  • Physical therapists

  • Chiropractors & other bodyworkers

In order for these providers to refer to you, they’re going to want to feel confident in your clinical skills and in the value of the services you’re providing. You’ll need to do more than just network–you’ll want to take the time to earn their trust and respect. It’s also important to make sure that the feeling is mutual, and that you respect their skills and see good outcomes for the families in their care.

It’s always important to make a meaningful connection. It’s not enough to just say, “Oh I heard my friend likes this person.” Be prepared to ask and answer hard questions to build mutual understanding and respect.

For specialists, it can be beneficial to see if you can go with one of your clients, or ask if they allow you to come and just watch them work. When you make a referral, it’s an extension of you and your practice, so knowing what kind of care families will receive is super important. And be willing to accept shadowing in the other direction, too.

Hospital referral lists

Many hospitals maintain a referral list for outpatient lactation. Reach out to the postpartum unit or the lactation department to find out their requirements for being listed.

Other lactation consultants

Becoming invested in the lactation community at large and establishing yourself as someone who seeks to collaborate instead of compete can yield a rich network of referrals. If you’re all viewing yourselves as individuals, then you may be missing out on opportunities that will actually create a bigger pool of potential clients. 

For example, in New York City, our local chapter of USLCA (NYLCA) created a referral network for all of us. We have a central text line with an admin who monitors it, and when a referral comes in, the admin sends it to our WhatsApp group. She takes the first three responses and sends it back to the inquiring family. Now, instead of seeing ourselves as individual practitioners, we view ourselves as part of a larger network working together, and we take pride in what we are accomplishing together and how it benefits our own private practices.

While you may be thinking that your colleagues are your competition, by seeing them as potential referral sources you’ll discover that a collaborative mindset can lead to better outcomes for families in your area.

Maintaining Ethics with Referrals

When you’re cultivating these referral sources, you want to make sure you’re being ethical about it. Elizabeth Brooks’ book, Legal and Ethical Issues for the IBCLC is essential reading, with a chapter all about preventing conflict of interest. You never want to tarnish your clinical reputation by giving a referral in exchange for a gift, for example.

A kickback is when you agree to pay someone a fee or a percentage of what you’re paid in exchange for a referral. It’s unethical because the referral isn’t going to be given because it’s in the best interest of the family, but because someone is getting paid. In many places kickbacks are illegal; they’re always unethical.

Keeping Communication Open

Always get feedback from your clients about how things went with every referral you provide., even if that person is already on your referral list. If your client had a negative experience with them, you might need to have a hard conversation with the specialist and find out how to move things forward.

You’ll also want to keep in touch with your referral sources to keep you fresh in their minds. Checking in once or twice a year lets you update them on new services, and find out what’s new with them. Don’t forget to ask them if they have colleagues that they can introduce you too, so that you can keep on widening your referral network.

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