Become a Lactation Consultant in five steps!
This is one of the most frequent questions I am asked as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)! It was not long ago that I asked the same thing of the woman who became my (informal) mentor and she broke down what seemed like an overwhelming to-do list for me into simple steps. As such, I am passing it on to you!
A more detailed post is forthcoming breaking down each of the requirements into simpler terms!
Step One: Taking an interest in lactation
This usually comes from one of two experiences – having breastfed or being exposed to breastfeeding in another setting (nutrition or healthcare, for example) and being inspired to help others.
Step Two: Looking into the IBCLC credential
For this, you will need to go to the IBLCE (our certifying body) website’s Certify page. Read everything linked here! Some specific information I’ll point out of are the pathways (we’ll go over this), the Candidate Information Guide, and key dates to apply for the exam.
Step Three: Decide which pathway best suits you
The basic requirements are 15 college courses, 90 hours of lactation education, and a certain number of clinical hours based on the pathway you choose. After you have acquired these you are eligible to sit for the 175 question exam. This is the only lactation credential with such rigorous requirements, which is part of why it is considered the expert in lactation care!
A very simplistic breakdown for the pathways and unique aspects of each:
- Approved healthcare professionals or Leaders/Counselors of approved Peer Support Organizations
- Approved Education Program
- 300 supervised clinical hours, usually in a variety of practice settings
- Under Pathway 2 on this page you will find a list linking to each of the of IBLCE approved programs (currently all are US based. Some offer distance programs)
- Most of these programs require your college classes to be done before starting
- 500 supervised clinical hours
- Most mentors will charge (this is very documentation heavy for them and often they are allowing you to practice under their insurance)
- If the mentor is private practice amassing the hours may take a significant amount of time depending on their practice (this breaks down to 250-500 clients!)
Step Four: Do the things! Learn the things!
This part sounds obvious, but it’s honestly really important! This profession is not to be entered lightly as IBCLC is the clinical gold standard of lactation care. You may start this path and decide you are happy stopping at LLL Leader or Breastfeeding USA Counselor, and that’s wonderful! This field needs ALL levels of support for parents!! An IBCLC is a puzzle master; we fix advanced clinical breastfeeding issues with individualized approaches to each case. Working together is SO important – in my practice, I frequently work with WIC Peer Counselors (US based), LLL Leaders, and BFUSA Counselors! Sometimes a parent will come to me with a more common issue and cannot pay for a visit, so I refer to these groups. Often these groups will refer to me when something presents out of their scope of practice.
Join ILCA, find your local Breastfeeding Coalition (links to a US listing of state-level coalitions, which you should join and then can help you find your local one), volunteer in these organizations, volunteer at other events and do the grunt work (we all start there!). Never stop learning. Network and make connections with other experienced IBCLCs who can help informally mentor you as you learn to keep you from having to reinvent the wheel.
In a profession where half of our population will be retirement age within ten years, we need to be learning from these experienced voices and allowing their ceiling to be our floor. Doing so allows us to keep growing this profession and helping more parents and babies with the best clinical care possible!
Step Five: The Exam!
Studying for this sucker can seem overwhelming. The good news is that roughly 80% of those who take the exam pass. This number changes every year and the way the test is designed/scored involves a statistician and another blog post. If you’ve gotten this far, you likely know what you’re doing to pass the test! After you pass, you can begin working as an IBCLC.
Just because you’ve reached IBCLC doesn’t mean you stop learning! This is only the beginning – and I do hope that you’ll continue to grow more IBCLCs as you go!
And that’s the gist of the process in a nutshell. In the interest of TL;DR I chose to do a second (forthcoming) post detailing each of the requirements and ways to more equitably achieve them. Until then – be well!