Lactation Consultant Degree Programs and Training

Breastfeeding may be natural, but that does not mean it's easy. Even experienced moms sometimes need a helping hand. Lactation consultants educate and support now-and-future-mothers in the areas of lactation and nutrition, troubleshooting challenges and reinforcing good health habits. Proper training is a must, and though educational requirements vary, states and employers increasingly prefer to hire formally trained and certified LCs, especially in clinical settings. Read on to learn more.

Lactation consultant degree programs

The share of breastfeeding mothers is skyrocketing, but according to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most stop well short of the recommended 12 months. The CDC says professional lactation support boosts breastfeeding success and, in turn, maternal-infant health. States and hospitals are savvy to this trend, too, and are reevaluating the field's professional and training standards. Formal lactation consultant degree programs are rare, but professional certification from groups like the International Board of Certified Lactation Education is quickly becoming the gold standard. Several states recently passed legislation requiring LCs to be certified and/or licensed to practice, including Massachusetts, Georgia and Rhode Island. Even when the law does not require certification, employers often do. This shift is changing the way LCs prepare for the workforce.

Just because lactation consultant degree programs are still rare, that doesn't mean LCs skip college. On her website, BreastfeedingBasics.org, IBCLC-certified lactation consultant Anne Smith said certification requirements become more rigorous each year. The IBCLC now requires so many clinical hours that they are almost impossible to accrue unless you already work not just in health care, but in a role specifically related to maternal and infant care. As a result, most certified lactation consultants actually begin their careers in nursing school. Nursing degree programs also help candidates meet additional IBCLC training requirements. More on this later.

Nursing requirements vary by state. Licensed practical nurses rarely need more than a diploma or postsecondary certificate, but many registered nurses need at least an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Masters of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree programs are increasingly common. Note that some nursing schools offer "second degree" programs streamlined specifically for students with bachelor's degrees in unrelated fields. LPNs or RNs who want to advance their educations without repeating courses can look to RN-to-BSN, LPN-to-RN, RN-to-MSN and other specialty bridge programs. No two programs are identical, but most offer the same general training. Prospective schools can provide more detailed program descriptions.

Training for lactation consultants

The national push for lactation consultant certification and evolving training requirements means many lactation consultants launch their careers in nursing school where they take a myriad of health-related courses. Many of these classes conveniently satisfy additional IBCLE education requirements, especially in the context of maternal labor and delivery, postnatal and pediatric nursing programs. Among them:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Sociology
  • Psychology or counseling
  • Child development
  • Nutrition
  • Medical terminology

Nursing degree programs provide most, but not all LC training: IBCLC candidates must complete at least 1000 hours of clinical lactation practice and 90 hours of lactation management coursework before they can even apply to take the certification exam. Even certified lactation consultants must complete clinical hours and continuing education courses to recertify every five years. The International Lactation Consultant Association hosts a directory of lactation management course providers on its official website, including several online options. Contact the IBCLE, the ILCA or prospective schools to learn more about your options.

Lactation consultants career outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track lactation consultant career trends, but the CDC publishes state-by-state employment rates and goals in its annual Breastfeeding Report Card. The good news: The number of IBCLC-certified LCs grew from 2.1 to 3.5 per 1,000 live births nationally between 2006 and 2013. The bad news: It is not enough. CDC data suggests a strong link between lactation support access and breastfeeding success.. A comprehensive breastfeeding support group called Le Leche League can be an excellent resource for mothers who do not have access LCs, but not all leaders are qualified to diagnose medical issues that interfere with breastfeeding, like mastitis, thrush, supply problems and infant tongue-tie. That is what makes board-certified LCs with proper medical training so valuable. It also explains why the CDC, which considers breastfeeding an important part of infant nutrition and development, campaigns for more LCs in hospitals, birth centers, physicians' offices, health clinics and even private practice.

Visit the CDC to learn more about lactation consultation trends in your state. Groups like the IBCLE and the ILCA publish current LC certification and training requirements on their websites. Keep in mind that state requirements for LCs are evolving, and fast. Your state's professional licensing or nursing board can clarify regulations. Already have a goal? Check out the schools offering lactation consultant training programs below or our directory of LPN and RN degree programs to get started.

Sources:

"How Do I Become A Lactation Consultant?" Ask Anne…, Breastfeeding Basics, Anne Smith, http://www.breastfeedingbasics.com/qa/becoming-a-lactation-consultant

House Bill 363: Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act, Georgia Occupational Regulation Review Council, December, 2013, https://opb.georgia.gov/sites/opb.georgia.gov/files/related_files/site_page/HB%20363%20Final%20Combined%20%28PUBLISHED%29.pdf

"Senate approves bill to license lactation consultants," Press Releases, News, State of Rhode Island General Assembly, May, 8, 2014, http://www.rilin.state.ri.us/pressrelease/_layouts/RIL.PressRelease.ListStructure/Forms/DisplayForm.aspx?List=c8baae31-3c10-431c-8dcd-9dbbe21ce3e9&ID=9766&Web=2bab1515-0dcc-4176-a2f8-8d4beebdf488

Bill S.2415: An Act regulating the practice and licensure of lactation consultants, Joint Committee on Public Health, 188th General Court, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2012, https://malegislature.gov/Bills/187/Senate/S2415

Preparing for IBCLC Certification, International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, 2014, http://iblce.org/certify/preparing-for-ibclc-certification/

Breastfeeding Report Card: United States/2014, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2014breastfeedingreportcard.pdf

Student Resources, International Lactation Consultant Association, http://www.ilca.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3911

La Leche Leage International, http://www.llli.org/

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