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Lactation Consultant Certification and Requirements

New mothers are inundated all sorts of advice, but how to feed their babies is undoubtedly among the hottest (and perhaps most controversial) topics. Groups like the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have adopted a "breast is best" stance, citing research linking nursing with better health outcomes. Their recommendations struck a chord. Today the vast majority of new mothers at least try to breastfeed, but the CDC warned in its 2014 Breastfeeding Report Card that less than one-fifth continued until six months, let alone the recommended 12+ months. Certified lactation consultants could be the key to helping more moms reach these important milestones.

According to the CDC, breastfeeding success indicators improve when mothers have access to professional lactation support, particularly those properly trained and certified by organizations like the International Board of Lactation Consultant Education and the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice. Many states recently passed legislation requiring such certification, and employers increasingly prefer it -- especially in clinical settings. There are a number of pathways to becoming a certified lactation consultant. Read on to learn more.

Lactation consultant educational requirements

The CDC tracks two different types of certified lactation consultants: IBCLE-certified LCs (IBCLCs) and AALP Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs). Each organization sets its own eligibility criteria, professional standards and scope of practice, but both have minimum educational requirements. We detail them below. Note that those wishing to become a lactation consultant must meet all of these requirements before even sitting for their certification exams, and must continue to meet educational benchmarks to renew their credentials down the line.

IBCLC Certification

The IBCLE's certification process is more rigorous and clinical than that of the AALP, preparing professionals for what the CDC calls clinical (think: medically-inclined) lactation management roles. According to IBCLE-certified lactation consultant Anne Smith's official website, BreastfeedingBasics.org, this distinction gives IBCLE-certified LCs an edge in clinical settings, like hospitals and physicians' offices. IBCLCs must recertify every five years.

The IBCLE offers three pathways to certification depending on applicant's professional and educational backgrounds. Educational and clinical requirements for each pathway, as of 2014, are as follows.

Pathway 1:

  • Completion of 14 health science courses in areas like anatomy, nutrition and child development.
  • At least 90 hours of online or classroom-based lactation-specific education
  • At least 1000 hours of lactation-specific clinical practice as a recognized health professional or mother support counselor, at least 500 of which must be completed in-person; up to 250 hours can be provided by phone, email or the Web

Pathway 2 :

  • Graduation from an one of five academic lactation consultation programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (visit the IBCLE for details)
  • Completion of 14 health sciences courses in areas like anatomy, nutrition and child development
  • At least 90 hours of didactic training in human lactation
  • At least 300 hours of directly supervised clinical practice in breastfeeding care

Pathway 3:

  • Completion of 14 health sciences courses in areas like anatomy, nutrition and child development
  • At least 90 hours of didactic training in human lactation
  • At least 500 hours of clinical lactation practice under the direct supervision of an approved IBCLC mentor, to be verified by the IBCLE

ALPP/CLC Certification

According to the AALP, CLCs are specialize in lactation counseling. While some CLCs work in clinical settings as nurses, midwives and public health professionals, others serve as peer counselors, doulas and childbirth educators. The ALPP requires candidates to meet certain health education requirements, but, as of 2014, are not expected to accrue the same steep clinical hours associate with IBCLE certification.

In addition to completing an evidence-based, comprehensive lactation course, the ALPP requires exam candidates to successfully pass an additional nursing skills competency program meeting the following standards:

  • Accreditation by: the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Commission on Accreditation, the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the American College of Nurse Midwives or the IBCLE
  • Covers content and objectives specified in the WHO's "40 Hour Course"
  • Taught by instructors with ongoing clinical practice experience, and who have published peer-reviewed articles relevant to the field
  • Approved for at least three college credits at a university accredited by the Higher Learning Commission
  • Includes training in counseling, teaching and managing specific breastfeeding difficulties

Future LCs can learn more about IBCLE and ALPP certification and professional standards by visiting the organizations' official websites.

Benefits of lactation consultant certification

The benefits of lactation consultant certification for patients are clear: The CDC and the ALPP both report that families who work with certified LCs are more likely to breastfeed, and for longer. Certification can help LCs, too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) does not track salary data for lactation consultants specifically, but it reports that earnings and employment rates tend to improve with education, regardless of the field. Certification also offers a LC's an opportunity to develop and certify their skills at a time when formal lactation consultant degree programs remain rare. This formal training and the continuing education courses required for certification renewal keep LCs abreast of new research, technological advances and other trends that impact the field.

Another good reason to consider certification: It is increasingly required. Several states have proposed or passed legislation requiring lactation consultants to be certified and licensed to practice, and thanks to CDC recommendations, others are likely to follow suit. Even when states do not require certification, employers often do. Visit your state's professional licensing board to learn more about new and emerging laws regulating LCs. Review the CDC's Breastfeeding Report Card for the agency's latest recommendations and LC employment trends. Prospective LCs can learn more about lactation consultant certification and eligibility requirements by visiting the IBLCE and the ALPP online. You can also learn more about your training options by researching and contacting schools that offer lactation management and related health care training.

Sources:

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

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

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

Pathways, Certification, The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, 2014, http://iblce.org/certify/pathways/

The CLC - Certified Lactation Counselor, Certification, Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice, http://talpp.org/certification.html

ALPOP Candidate Handbook & Application: Certified Lactation Counselor, Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice, 2014, http://talpp.org/forms/CLCCandidateHandbook2014.pdf



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