How to Become a Lactation Consultant

How to Become a Lactation Consultant

Mothers are now much more aware of the immunity and health benefits their babies get from being breastfed. After going out of fashion between the 1940s and the 1970s, breastfeeding is now coming back in full force.

However, mothers in the 21st century find it difficult to know who to turn to for help in this important task. They cannot ask the generation before them, and even obstetricians and pediatric nurses are often not trained for this because of the low demand.

Mothers who have difficulty nursing their babies, who have problems with sore nipples or little or no milk, have no one to turn to for help and support. This is where you come in. Lactation consultants fill in the knowledge and history gap to give scientific clinical help to mothers having difficulty in breastfeeding.

become-a-lactation-consultant

The best part is that becoming a lactation consultant is quite simple. Lactation consultants need to be accredited by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) before they can put IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) after their names. There are 3 Pathways to this certification.

Which Pathway is For Me?

There are 3 Pathways to accommodate anyone who wants to become a lactation consultant. They take into account applicants who 1) have prior experience, 2) have graduated in a relevant course, and 3) are without either prior experience or a relevant course degree.

Who Takes Pathway 1?

Pathway 1 is for Recognized Health Professionals and Recognized Mother Support Counsellors.

Recognized Health Professions:

  • Midwife
  • Nurse
  • Physician or Medical Doctor
  • Dentist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Dietician
  • Speech Pathologist or Specialist
  • Physical Therapist or Physiotherapist

Among the Recognized Mother Support Counsellor Organizations

  • Breastfeeding USA
  • Nursing Mothers Advisory Council
  • Any birth centre, community clinic, hospital, and primary care practitioner’s office

Who Takes Pathway 2?

Pathway 2 is for IBCLC-aspirants who opt to take an academic program. They might be shifting from a previously unrelated job, or want to augment their education to include lactation consultancy. Either way, the educational institute they go to must be accredited for lactation-training by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.

Who Takes Pathway 3?

Pathway 3 is the mentorship program for applicants who have no prior experience or education in lactation consultancy. Current IBCLCs are qualified to carry out the mentorship program, so long as the IBLCE already knows of the arrangement and has approved the mentorship plan.

What is Common to All 3 Pathways

To become an IBCLC, there are some requirements common to all 3 Pathways. These are:

  • 14 Health Science Courses
  • 90 Hours of Lactation-Specific Education
  • Clinical Practice (the hours depend on the Pathway)
  • The Last 2 Requirements Completed Within 5 Years of Application for the Exam

Lactation consultants educate and encourage new mothers, provide expert opinions and advice, and support them emotionally and psychologically. The health science courses take care of the basic information they need to be able to do that.

The lactation-specific education ensures that they have the basic clinical and scientific education about lactation to properly support the new mother. The clinical practice section either gives them the relevant experience for certification, or acknowledges existing experience.

The 3 IBCLC Pathways at a Glance

Pathway 1 Pathway 2 Pathway 3
14 Health Science Courses
At least 90 hours of lactation-specific education A minimum of 1000 hours of lactation-specific clinical practice
14 Health Science Courses
Graduation from an academic program in human lactation and breastfeeding which includes 90 hours of didactic education
A minimum of 300 hours of directly supervised clinical practice in lactation and breastfeeding care
14 Health Science Courses
At least 90 hours of lactation-specific education A minimum of 500 hours of directly supervised lactation-specific clinical practice

From http://iblce.org/certify/pathways/

IBCLC Pathway 1

Pathway 1 is for practicing health professionals, who have more of a chance and opportunity for clinical practice than those taking an academic program or beginning through mentorship. The requirements are:

  • 14 health science courses
  • 90 hours of lactation-specific education
  • 1000 hours minimum of lactation-specific clinical practice
  • Completion of the last 2 requirements within 5 years of application for the exam

Pathway 1: 14 Health Science Courses

If you are a practicing registered health professional, IBLCE takes it for granted that you have already completed all of the 14 required health science courses, and you do not have to take them again. It does not matter when you graduated or when the courses were completed–completion of this requirement does not need to fall within the 5-year timeframe.

You can use the following documents as proof of your status as a Recognized Health Professional:

  • Degree
  • Diploma
  • License
  • Registration
  • Transcript

For those taking Pathway 1 as Recognized Mother Support Counselors, and if you did not graduate with Recognized Health Professional degrees, you will need to take the course subjects that are still lacking from the list of 14 required subjects.

Again, it does not matter when the course subjects are taken. All that is needed are certificates or transcripts verifying that you did indeed take the course subjects.

Pathway 1: 90 Hours of Lactation-Specific Education

These hours must be completed in addition to the 14 health science courses taken. Course subjects can be taken in educational institutes through classroom learning, online education, or distance learning. All that is required is a certificate or transcript that verifies the completion of the 90 hours.

IBLCE requires 60-minute hours (some institutes only have 50-minute course subjects). If you happen to be in a classroom or online program with course subjects less than 60 minutes in length, add course subject hours accordingly.

Pathway 1: 1000 Hours of Lactation-Specific Clinical Practice

The 1000 hours may be either for paid or volunteer work, or both. If you are a registered health professional who needs more hours, volunteer work will cover the requirement as well. 1000 hours are needed because there is no direct supervision.

Paid or volunteer lactation-specific clinical practice is counted if it is supervised care given to a currently breastfeeding family, within 5 years of applying for the exam.

What counts as clinical practice for Recognized Health Professionals?

  • Hours spent helping breastfeeding mothers during hospital work as a Recognized Health Professional
  • Hours spent in volunteer work helping breastfeeding mothers
  • A combination of hours spent in both paid and volunteer work helping breastfeeding mothers

What does not count as clinical practice for Recognized Health Professionals?

  • Personal experience with breastfeeding
  • Personal help or advice given to family or friends
  • Unsupervised (not at work or as a volunteer) counsel and support given to breastfeeding families

What counts as clinical practice for Recognized Mother Support Counselors?

  • Volunteer service through direct consultation for breastfeeding mothers. (1 full year of service = 500 hours)
  • Volunteer service through virtual consultation for breastfeeding mothers. (1 full year of service = 250 hours)
  • Hours spent as a breastfeeding peer counselor under an IBCLC or a Recognized Health Professional

What does not count as clinical practice for Recognized Mother Support Counselors?

  • Personal experience with breastfeeding
  • Volunteer hours in less than 1 full year of volunteer service
  • Unsupervised support and counsel to breastfeeding families

For Recognized Mother Support Counselors, the following counts as virtual consultation:

  • Web consultation
  • Telephone consultation
  • Email consultation

Applicants taking the exam under Pathway 1 are not directly supervised, so many of the hours logged are under good faith. However, they have the benefit of several years of experience.

IBCLC Pathway 2

Pathway 2 is for applicants who have completed or would rather complete an academic program to qualify for the exam. Pathway 2 requires:

  • 14 Health Science Courses
  • Graduation from an academic program in breastfeeding and lactation that includes
    • At last 90 hours of didactic education
    • At least 300 hours of directly supervised clinical practice
  • Completion of the second requirement within 5 years of application for the exam

Pathway 2: 14 Health Science Courses

Unless you graduated from a Recognized Health Profession, you may not have completed all 14 of the required health science courses. In this case, a transcript can be submitted as evidence of the course subjects you have already taken in a previous degree course.

Certificates and transcripts can be submitted as proof of the other health science courses taken. These course subjects may have been taken any time prior to application for the exam, there is no time proximity requirement.

Pathway 2: Graduation from an Academic Program

The IBLCE suggests some universities that already have the academic programs that have both the 90 hours didactic education and 300 hours directly supervised clinical practice in their curricula. That being said, how do you know if the academic program you are taking or have taken is eligible for Pathway 2?

  • The academic program is in one of these universities:
    • University of California San Diego Extension
    • Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute
    • Union Institute and University
    • Birthingway College of Midwifery
    • Drexel University
  • The academic program offers 90 60-minute hours of didactic education, and 300 hours of directly supervised clinical practice, or is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (until January 1, 2017)
  • The academic program is accredited by the CAAHEP (non-negotiable starting January 1, 2017)

Didactic simply means informative and morally sound. Didactic education in lactation is thorough education not only on the science but also on the emotional, psychological, and moral benefits of breastfeeding. For this requirement, a certificate, transcript, or diploma is sufficient evidence of the fulfilled requirement.

Pathway 2: 300 Hours of Directly Supervised Clinical Practice

Applicants taking Pathway 2 only need 300 hours of clinical practice because 1) it is directly supervised and 2) the education partly counts as experience. Every hour can be accounted for, and the applicant is directly studying lactation consultancy the rest of the time. A certificate or document from the supervisor or school may be submitted as evidence of the fulfilled requirement.

IBCLC Pathway 3

Pathway 3 was made available by the IBLCE for IBCLC applicants who have neither the experience nor the education of health professionals and graduates of academic programs on lactation. To qualify for the exam through Pathway 3, the applicant needs:

  • 14 health science courses
  • 90 hours of lactation-specific education
  • 500 hours of directly supervised clinical practice
  • Completion of the last 2 requirements within 5 years of application for the exam

Pathway 3: 14 Health Science Courses

If you opt for Pathway 3, first check any of your degree or certificate courses to see if the required course subjects are in the transcript or certificate. Those can be submitted as partial evidence of fulfillment of the requirement.

Any of the other required course subjects may be taken and completed any time, and the certificates or transcripts kept as evidence. It does not matter when any of these courses were completed, no matter how long before application for the exam.

Pathway 3: 90 Hours of Lactation-Specific Education

These 60-minute hours may be obtained online, through classroom learning, or distance learning. All that is required is a transcript, degree, or certificate that is evidence of 90 hours of the required education. Most importantly, these 90 hours should be completed within 5 years of application for the exam.

Pathway 3: 500 Hours of Directly Supervised Clinical Practice

For applicants under Pathway 3, the extra 200 hours of directly supervised clinical practice make up for the experience of Recognized Health Professionals and Recognized Mother Support Counsellors taking Pathway 1, and the academic program of those taking Pathway 2. This way, Pathway 3 applicants are on even footing with Pathways 1 and 2 applicants.

Because Pathway 3 is a mentorship program, interested applicants need to submit a detailed plan for their directly supervised clinical practice. Their mentors should be IBLCE-certified, and the IBLCE should be able to assess the mentors before approving the plan.

The plan must have 3 parts.

  • Observation of their IBCLC mentor (not counted in the 500 hours)
  • Clinical practice with the constant presence of the IBCLC mentor in the room (counted in the 500 hours)
  • Clinical practice with the IBCLC mentor directly nearby and on-call (counted in the 500 hours)

The mentor should keep a detailed Pathway 3 Time Plan and sign it upon full completion of the hours. This may be submitted as evidence of the fulfilled requirement. He should also have signed a Mentor Agreement Form for the applicant.

The plan must be verified before the hours can be counted. However, since observation of the IBCLC mentor does not count towards the hours, observation can begin before the IBLCE verifies the plan. The duly accomplished plan, the Time Plan signed by the mentor, and any relevant certificates may be submitted as evidence of the completed requirement.

Lactation Consultancy: One Size Fits All

The IBLCE acknowledges the need, and even more the growing demand, for lactation consultants. For you, this is a good thing. With the 3 Pathways to lactation consultancy, they make it possible for anyone to take up this worthwhile career.

Study the requirements well, be able to produce the relevant documents on demand, and there should be no difficulty in launching your career as a lactation consultant. Good luck!

 

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There is a lot of information found of this site for those wishing to become lactation consultants and those already certified as a lactation consultant.