Lactation Consultant Education, Schools, and Career Overview
The share of breastfeeding mothers is skyrocketing, but according to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most stop well short of the recommended 12 months. The CDC says professional lactation support from a lactation consultant can boost breastfeeding success and, in turn, maternal-infant health.
A lactation consultant educates current 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 lactation consultants, especially in clinical settings.
How to Become a Lactation Consultant
The path to becoming a lactation consultant is shifting rapidly. State and employer education requirements are steeper than ever, yet dedicated lactation consultant degree programs remain rare.
Most aspiring lactation consultants choose to earn a bachelor's degree while gaining their registered nurse status. However, those who chose not to pursue a career in nursing as either an LPN or RN can earn a bachelor's degree in another health-related field that would be well-suited to this career. Earning LPN or RN status is the path most frequently chosen because it is a convenient way to obtain the number of contact hours required to qualify for the IBCLE exam.
The International Board of Certified Lactation Examiners (IBCLE) maintains a complete list of board-recognized health-related fields that offer relevant education and experience, like nursing, midwifery, and nutrition consultation.
An education in these areas can prepare future lactation consultants to identify and manage medical problems that might interfere with breastfeeding, such as mastitis and thrush. They also help candidates meet IBCLE requirements for taking their certification exam. Knowledge in the following topics can be particularly beneficial:
The path to becoming a lactation consultant is shifting rapidly. State and employer training requirements are steeper than ever, yet dedicated lactation consultant degree programs remain rare. The International Board of Certified Lactation Examiners (IBCLE) maintains a complete list of board-recognized health-related fields that offer relevant training and experience, like nursing, midwifery, and nutrition consultation.
Training in these areas can prepare future lactation consultants to identify and manage medical problems that might interfere with breastfeeding, such as mastitis and thrush. They also help candidates meet IBCLE requirements for taking their certification exam. Knowledge in the following topics can be particularly beneficial:
- Psychology and counseling
- Medical terminology
- Child development
Aspiring lactation consultants who have earned a bachelor's degree in something other than nursing will still have an opportunity to acquire the necessary contact hours. The La Leche League organization facilitates the acquisition of contact hours by allowing aspiring lactation consultants the opportunity to work as WIC peer counselors. There are also ample opportunities for field experience and exposure to the daily duties involved in lactation consultation by simply job shadowing another International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
Lactation Consultant Certification
The two organizations offering certification in this field are the International Board of Certified Lactation Examiners (IBCLE) and the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice (AALP). 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.
In order to sit for the IBCLE certification exam, candidates must meet certain educational and professional requirements through one of three pathways:
- 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 by phone, email, or over the Internet
- Graduation from any one of five academic lactation consultation programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs
- 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
- 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 IBCLE mentor
The ALPP requires that exam candidates complete an evidence-based, comprehensive lactation course, and successfully pass an additional nursing skills competency program.
Certification offers lactation consultants an opportunity to develop and certify skills at a time when formal degree programs remain rare. This formal training, and the continuing education courses required for certification renewal, help to keep consultants abreast of new research, technological advances, and other trends that impact the field.
Another good reason to consider certification: It is increasingly necessary. 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.
Skills and Qualities
The IBCLE's clinical hours and education requirements may help lactation consultants get the technical training they need to support mothers and their babies, but they also need active listening skills, strong oral and written communication, critical thinking ability, social perceptiveness, and deductive and inductive reasoning.
Career Outlook and Salary Information
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer specific information about this career. However, they do track salary information for nurse midwives, who sometimes may double as lactation consultants.
- 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
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Midwives, Occupational Education Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291161.htm
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
- The CLC - Certified Lactation Counselor, Certification, Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice,http://talpp.org/certification.html
- List of Recognized Health Professionals, International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, August, 2013, http://iblce.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/recognised-health-professions.pdf
- Pathways, Certification, The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, 2014,http://iblce.org/certify/pathways/
- Preparing for IBCLC Certification, International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, 2014, http://iblce.org/certify/preparing-for-ibclc-certification/
- Professional Standards, International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, http://iblce.org/resources/professional-standards/
- Student Resources, International Lactation Consultant Association, http://www.ilca.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3911