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The Process of How to Become a Lactation Consultant

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For many women, helping other women during their breastfeeding years is a dream come true. There is no better way to support breastfeeding mothers than to become a lactation consultant. These fabulous ladies work in hospitals around the country. They also make house calls and may work at your local WIC offices.

There are some steps and requirements to become a lactation consultant. While anyone can do so, you have to make sure you fit the requirements. The worse thing would be to start to process only to discover it just won’t work for your schedule or family at this time.

How to Become a Lactation Consultant in Steps

Before you start the process, you need to know some lingo. You will notice the term IBLCE mentioned a few times throughout the instructions.

IBLCE stands for International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, which is the certification body that sets the requirements and creates the exam to obtain your IBCLC – International Board Certified Lactation Consultant – credentials.

1. Meet the Requirements


You are going to need to take some science courses to complete the requirements. Most lactation consultants are already a Registered Nurse or a health professional because of the required health courses. However, having any of those degrees is not a requirement.

The easiest way to meet the needs is to enroll in a nursing program. You don’t have to complete the process, but it will give you the needed knowledge to pass the exam.

If you prefer not to enroll in this program, you are going to take the following courses:

  • Biology
  • Human anatomy
  • ​Infant and child growth and development
  • ​Infant and child growth and development
  • ​Human physiology
  • ​Nutrition
  • Psychology or Counseling
  • ​Introduction to research
  • Sociology

Required Continuing Education courses

  • CPR or basic life support
  • Medical documentation
  • ​Medical terminology
  • ​Occupational safety and security for health professionals
  • Professional ethics for health professionals
  • Universal safety precautions and infection control

No matter what pathway you pick below, certain requirements must be met for your education on these subjects to apply. For example, all courses must be taken at an accredited school; make sure the online school you select is accredited because many are not.

You must have a passing grade in all the course. You need a minimum of one academic credit for each subject, which is 25 hours or more.

2. Lactation Specific Clinical Experience


One of the purposes of becoming a lactation consultant is to help breastfeeding and pregnant women throughout the entire process of pregnancy and nursing. One of the ways to reach the requirement is to register with a program from the IBLCE.

Depending on your chosen path, you will need between 300 and 1,000 hours of clinical experience. These times need to be within five years before the exam you must take to be certified. That is a lot of hours, which is why it’s easier for RNs to get certified.

Breastfeeding mothers often wonder if their personal experience counts as clinical experience. Unfortunately, any personal experience while breastfeeding your child or helping family and friends will not count towards your required clinical experience hours.

3. Lactation Specific Education


The next requirement to become a lactation consultant is to complete 90 hours of coursework. Most of this coursework can be taken online over a period.

Just like with the clinical hours, the coursework has to be taken within the five years before the exam. It covers the history of lactation consulting and much of the knowledge you will need in the field.

Selecting the Right Pathway

Now that you understand the requirements, you have to pick a pathway to certification. There are three different ones. Let’s look at the differences between the pathways.

1. Pathway for Health Professionals


If you are already in the medical field, you have the opportunity at a unique pathway. So much time as you have the transcripts from your studies, you can skip the required coursework; they are necessary for the nursing field.

The requirements to take the IBLCE exam are:

  • 90 hours – lactation specific education
  • 1,000 hours – lactation specific clinical practice. These times need to be with a supervised person who understands breastfeeding.

2. Accredited Academic Programs


So, you are not a health professional, but you decided to take courses from an accredited program. You have a unique pathway to your lactation consultant certification!

First, you have to pass all of the courses and graduates from a human lactation and breastfeeding program. Currently, five academic programs are approved by the IBLCE. A quick check of their website will give you the options.

Next, there is the requirement to take the IBLCE exam:

  • 300 hours – directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice
  • 90 hours – lactation specific education

3. Mentorship Pathway


If you are not a health professional and are not enrolled in an accredited academic program, Pathway 3 is the option for you. Pathway 3 is about mentorship and learning while being supervised by someone who is experienced and knowledgeable.

Like the other two pathways, you are still required to complete all 14 health science courses, including the continuing education courses, such as CPR. Next, the other requirements for pathway 3 are:

  • 90 hours – lactation specific education
  • 500 hours – directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice. Unlike the other two pathways, pathway 3 has an established plan that must be followed and verified by the IBLCE.

IBLCE Examination

Once you have the proper education required, all of the lactation specific education courses, and all of the necessary clinical hours, you are ready to take the IBLCE examination.

Before taking the exam, you have to show proof that you met all the requirements. If you are missing even one hour of the required amount, you will not be permitted to sit for the exam.

The IBLCE test is offered twice a year at the certified locations. Most people select to take a computer-based test. However, there are pen and paper sites proved by the IBLCE.

The examination can cover up to 175 different topic, which is why it is important to fully understand all of the information learned in your health science courses and lactation education courses. Some of the potential topics on the test could be:

  • Food intolerances
  • Normal infant behaviors
  • ​Preterm development
  • ​Nipple structure and variations
  • ​Newborn hypoglycemia
  • ​Relactation
  • ​Cleft lip and palate
  • ​Galactogogues
  • ​Medicinal herbs
  • ​Effective milk transfer
  • Test-weighing

There are so many more potential topics that may be on the IBLCE examination. There is no current study guide for the test.

What to Do Now?

Once you have chosen your pathway to become a lactation consultant, it is time to start your journey.

First, you have to ensure you have taken the proper health science courses and continuing education courses. If you are a health professional, you will need a transcript to verify. Otherwise, most accredited colleges provide the required health science courses.

While you are taking the proper health science courses, you should be working towards the right amount of clinical hours, which range from 300 to 1,000 hours. Also, at the same time, you should be working on taking the lactation education courses.

The process to become a lactation consultant is not easy, but it is obtainable for anyone with the genuine love and desire to help breastfeeding mothers.

Did you go through the training and courses to become a lactation consultant? Let us know about your experiences!

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Hi! I’m Serena. The first time that I knew the term “being mommy” was fantastic and unforgettable. It brought me a lot of changes in my body, my habit, my feeling and my whole life. I started Kittymoms in order to share my knowledge and experience to those who are first-time mommies and who have a long time to be back to mom's work, all who need to search advice during the time taking care of their babies.

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