Why I am really damn proud to be an IBCLC (and not just a “lactation consultant”)

proud to be IBCLC

The other day I got a facebook message from a pregnant childhood friend, asking me what a lactation consultant does.  It was a good reminder for me; heck, thirteen years ago I’d probably never even heard of a lactation consultant!

I floundered around for a bit trying to find a quick, easy way to explain that I work with families to help them meet whatever breastfeeding goals they have- and it occurred to me that I need to have a set answer ready to go because surely this won’t be the last time someone asks me that question.

If you google the term “lactation consultant” you get a gnarly mish-mash of paid ads, directories, and a few sites offering breastfeeding training.  The ugly truth here is that anyone can call themselves a lactation consultant- it’s a completely generic term that isn’t trademarked.  Did you know that?   

Anyone on earth can run out and advertise as a “lactation consultant” with not even one drop of breastfeeding education and there’s nothing stopping them.

Yet when you hear or say “lactation consultant” you have an expectation that anyone calling themselves a LC is some sort of expert.  In fact, look what you get when you google “definition: lactation consultant”:

Yes, I know it’s wikipedia and crowdsourced and all that. But it looks official, and is the only definition Google offers.

What you’re seeing there, folks, is actually the definition of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, not a “lactation consultant”.  Yes, that’s a mouthful, but that’s what I am- for short, an IBCLC.

Who can call themselves an IBCLC?  Only the 27,000 or so of us on the entire earth who spent years earning that title- one IBCLC for every 4,800 babies born on earth per year- each of us would have to see 14 babies per day to help all the families on earth.

Very often I am approached by people who want to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and ask me for help getting started.  I hate to say it, but I’ve yet to meet one person who posed the question to me and then went on to complete even half of the work required for certification.

Becoming an IBCLC is a lot of work.


There are three pathways to sitting for the exam, all which include 14 college-level health science courses, at least 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and from 300-1,000 hours of directly supervised clinical lactation practice.  Once you complete your pathway, then and only then do you pay hundreds of dollars to sit for a 175-question exam that is only given twice a year.

This is no small potatoes, friends and neighbors.

You can’t get your certification after watching a webinar and answering a few recall questions.

You don’t become an IBCLC by going to a week-long breastfeeding class, practicing on your classmates, and then assessing a baby’s latch in a video (that earns you the title of Certified Lactation Counselor or CLC, which a lot of people think is the same as an IBCLC since the letters are so similar… but trust me, I’ve been both a CLC and an IBCLC and the two certifications are very, very, VERY different).

Here’s what I did to earn my IBCLC certification:

  • chose Pathway 2, which allows you to use an approved college-level academic program to meet some of your requirements and spent tens of thousands of dollars on my graduate education as I already had my BA
  • Proved my previous completion of some of the required health sciences courses during my BA degree, and added the remaining courses on top of my Masters coursework
  • Completed my CLC certification (the week-long course I mentioned above was a requirement for my degree program)
  • Did 300+ hours of directly supervised clinical lactation support (this alone took me a full year to complete)
  • Wrote a 90-page Masters Thesis on Perceived Milk Insufficiency which looked into why U.S. women feel that they don’t make enough milk
  • Earned my Master of Arts degree in Health & Wellness with a concentration in Lactation Studies SPECIFICALLY in order to qualify to sit for the IBCLC exam
  • Paid $800+ to register for the IBCLC exam, plus another $1,000 in study courses and materials
  • Sat for the exam in July of 2015 and waited until the very end of October 2015 for my results
  • Kicked that test’s butt and became a full-fledged, card carrying International Board Certified Lactation Consultant

Rachel O'Brien, lactation consultant ibclc

The day I got my IBCLC test results in the mail, I literally chased the mail carrier down the street to see if he had a big white envelope for me. He did.

As I mentioned there are other pathways to sit for the IBCLC exam, but I wouldn’t say any of them are easy.  I don’t think anyone becomes an IBCLC for funsies; we do it because we are strongly, deeply committed to providing families with evidence based care and supporting them throughout their breastfeeding, nursing, or chestfeeding journey.

This is why I do my damnedest to always tell people I am not a “lactation consultant”, I am an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.  My field of knowledge may be considered narrow to some, but it runs very, very deep- and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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53 thoughts on “Why I am really damn proud to be an IBCLC (and not just a “lactation consultant”)

  1. Iam an ObGyn from India ,currently planning to enrol for the exam to get my ibclc.
    What are the employment prospects?

  2. Hello Rachel. Regarding this comment you made in this blog, where did you complete some of the free Gen Ed classes at? I’ve also been searching for an affordable place to complete Intro to Clinical research.

    “I went to Union Institute & University for my pathway 2 class, but all the gen ed requirements I just did online- many classes are cheap or free.”

    1. Honestly it was a decade ago, I don’t remember and a lot of them may not even be around anymore, sorry!

  3. I would love to read your 90 page paper. Lots of mom’s I talk to say they don’t make enough but they are only pumping when they have their babies with them all day and other little “easy” fixes. It seems like really wanting to make it work or getting over mental hurdles is a big issue. I might pursue this as a career once my children are grown. Now I want to volunteer to help new mothers in any way I can.

    1. Hi Rachel,
      I read your post with interest as I am in the middle of my journey to Ibclc. Still a while to go. I would also like to see your thesis paper. Would you be willing to share? Or post it?

  4. Hello! I am about to go get my masters degree, I am wondering if finding a job was difficult without a background in nursing/medical practice field?

  5. Hi I loved reading your breakdown. Such dedication ♥️. I’m currently a breastfeeding mom to a 13 mos (actual) old babe who was born at 33 weeks. I learned so much through my bf journey. Before having my babe I was already interested in pursuing a degree/career in nutrition. I kind of diverged from that but somehow I was brought back and now would love to eventually pursue it along with public health. My question is this: for the immediate future what is the best and easiest route to get my foot in the door and start earning an income while maintains flexibility to remain a full time sahm (single parent) and once babe is older and I also have more income to invest in this path I can get more education go further along….? Is it possible for me ? Can I do some type of certification or training from home that will enable me to work also from home with some flexibility and income until things change so that I can invest more time and money into this very important work ?
    Thanks much 🙏

    1. Hi! I can’t for sure answer your question because there are too many variables, but in general I don’t know of any entry-level positions in lactation that you can do from home and earn any income from. So with that in mind you’ll want to start either in a volunteer organization like LLL or Breast-feeding USA and then you can move on to an entry-level lactation certification and see if you’re happy there before continuing to climb up the lactation ladder with additional training, clinical hours, and required general education.

      1. Hi, I’m currently a physical therapist assistant and I also have a bachelor’s in biology, I was wondering what would be the appropriate steps to take in gaining certifications.

  6. I am currently in nursing school will graduate in May as a registered nurse bsn. I am looking into IBCLC. I am unsure of a good school that offers this and how long it takes since I should have some of the prerequisites that has to be done.
    Thank you!

  7. Hello!
    I have worked as a RN in the NICU and postpartum. I currently work in a fam med clinic. I would love to be a CLC or IBCLC. I am overwhelmed by how to navigate the process and if my hours worked will count for anything. I am also going to school to get my DNP. Which cert do you recommend for me? Thanks!

    1. Do you mean if I recommend CLC or IBCLC? It depends on what you want to do! You need absolutely zero clinical or contact hours to become a CLC, and the SOP of CLC vs IBCLC are very different.

  8. Hello,
    I found your blog while doing research into becoming an IBCLC. I’m currently trying to decide where I want my coursework to be completed online (my husband is military and we are currently stationed in Germany, so sadly there are no classes local to me in English, especially now with COVID. As I’ve delved farthest rand farther into my research, Ive quite honestly just found myself more and more confused. I currently am pursuing pathway 3 as I have no prior medical education nor experience. However, I am wondering if I should rather become an RN and then an IBCLC. A few reasons are behind that thought, but the two forefront being 1) more job opportunities and 2) a more in depth understanding of the medical side of things. In your opinion, do you think it would be a better idea to pursue becoming and RN THEN a IBCLC, or do you think I could still manage a successful career as a IBCLC with no prior medical knowledge/training? I know there are a lot of factors behind this and a lot of constraining variables, but if we could negate all of that and just look at which pathway you think is better for the people I will hopefully be servicing in the future, which would you recommend? Thank you for any advice. Your post helped me decide that I want to pursue being an IBCLC instead of ending training as an CLC.

  9. Hi i am planning to be a IBCLC I’m currently in high school but I’m taking a few college Courses to get ready when i go to college. Any last minute tips i need to know? Or a good major for college? Also was the 90 page paper required? Thank You i hope to walk in your shoes some day

    1. Hi! The 90 page paper was for my masters thesis, which isn’t required to become an IBCLC. Anything in the healthcare field or public health policy is a good path for college if you want to be an IBCLC!

      1. Also where did you attend college to finish your education requirements in order to be an IBCLC. Ive been looking everywhere

        1. I went to Union Institute & University for my pathway 2 class, but all the gen ed requirements I just did online- many classes are cheap or free.

          1. Okay I’ve given this a lot of thought and time. Would it count if I just took classes online and took my 90 hours and hospital hours to be a IBCLC. Without a college degree or is the college degree mandatory?

  10. Hey there! What school did you go to? I’m very interested in becoming a IBCLC and have started the process of taking necessary health science classes. At this time, I fall under pathway 3. I’ve worked in corporate healthcare for nearly 15 years. I’m not an RN, or anything clinical. I’m concerned about following pathway 3 and not being able to get a job in the end. Your success with pathway 2 makes me want to seriously consider this option. I would appreciate where you went to school. Thank you!

  11. I am currently in process of getting my certification through pathway 3. I have 2 children of which both I successfully breastfed for over 2 years each. I have helped several friends and family members with trying to navigate through those first few weeks of breastfeeding that can either make ya or break ya without proper support. It wasnt until I had a late term miscarriage between children that i discovered my passion for wanting to work with women post partum and to give support where I felt there needed to be more. I knew I was very passionate about the promotion of breastfeeding so I set out to discover how I could help make a difference. However, although I am currently in school and knocking out the list of health science classes and feeling good about actively being on my pathway, I cant help but feel a little discouraged by the lack of information on how to actually realistically acquire my 500hrs of experience working under a IBCLC without already being a nurse or having a degree. I do not have my degree nor am I an RN and i can’t help but feel a bit deflated when I see that as almost a prerequisite for being hired as an IBCLC. I know this is what i was meant to do and it took a long time to get to a place that I could even go back to school long enough to achieve pathway 3, so going back to become an RN is financially out of the equation. And I just cant help but feel worried that I’m spending all this time when in the end all I’ll be able to get is a job as a CLC if I dont have a nursing background. If you have any advice I’d love to hear it. I live in the Bay Area of California. Thanks for your time…sorry for the novel.

    1. Hi Kassandra, I am also from the Bay Area and have the same concerns about getting a mentorship to gain the required experience without being a RN. While doing research I came across this website https://www.lactationtraining.com/our-courses/internship/clinical-internship-program. Apparently, if you pay $1500 they will provide internship placement. The fee is a little bit high for me so I am still doing research. Please let me know if you’ve had any luck acquiring more information.- Claudia

      1. Hi! Did you find someone to take you on to shadow them? I didn’t realize mentors only took those with RN backgrounds. That doesn’t seem fair if you’ve finished your training!

  12. I sat for the exam the same time as you and received my results on Halloween! I will never forget the joy of the good news. I never thought I’d be able to hack it: all of the steps required, all of the hoops to jump through, very little support from IBLCE: their vague criteria with strict deadlines, but I made it! I’ve already earned all of my CERPs to recertify in 2020 and hope they will change the requirement to sit for the exam every 10 years. Hoo boy, that exam was killer.

  13. Rachel – From one IBCLC to another, I understand where this arrogant tone of disdain for others in lactation comes from; pride. IBCLC designation is important for those who are managing complex lactation issues, but breastfeeding is normal health promotion and needn’t be something that requires a specialist to be done correctly in most circumstances. And hunny: humble is the word.

      1. I absolutely LOVE this post! I came across it after a very negative hospital based lactation staff meeting where we were told, “A nurse, is a nurse, is a nurse” by a clinic manager with no breastfeeding education whatsoever! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. We practice as IBCLC’! because we are passionate about it! We’re highly educated about it, and…well…we’re pretty good at it! I love your blog!

  14. Hello Rachel! Thank you for your post! I have breastfed my twins for 3 years and it is the proudest thing I have done in my life. I think I might have a “calling” to become an RN and IBCLC. I want to encourage other moms to continue on. Did you feel you were “called” to become an IBCLC?

    1. Hi Amy! Congratulations on nursing your twins for 3 years, that is AMAZING. Yes, I definitely felt called to become a lactation consultant. That calling continued in the back of my mind for years, even when I was busy supporting my partner’s path to his chosen profession. Once I got far past nursing my second child and STILL was passionate about helping breastfeeding families I knew I couldn’t ignore it any more. And I ended up having a third baby after I started my MA program for lactation- so I got to give it all another shot!

  15. Yes, a CLC IS very different from an IBCLC. Im offended that you said “go figure” as a rude comment putting down the CLC credential. Some people are successful at breastfeeding their own children and want to join you in the mission of “strongly, deeply committed to providing families with evidence based care and supporting them throughout their breastfeeding, nursing, or breastfeeding journey.” but they cant/dont want to make it into a career or work for a hospital (etc medical places that only hire IBCLCs). So, they opt for this credential to be more official and to ensure they are spreading evidenced based information. It IS a sacrifice and a time commitment to even earn the CLC credential, although I do agree not as much so as the IBCLC, but like I said, in some cases it is not needed for the advance of breastfeeding awareness. I don’t think anyone becomes a CLC for funsies; either. And I do agree with this article as far as LCs in general go, because anyone can call themselves that, but the CLC is still a highly earned credential.

    1. Hi Misty! The “go figure” comment had absolutely nothing to do with putting down the CLC credential. It was related to the fact that the Pathway 2 academic program I used to qualify to sit for the IBLCE exam required all of us to earn our CLC certification as part of the program.

  16. After two unsuccessful breastfeeding experiences with my two older children and a very successful breastfeeding relationship (still going at 27 months!) with my third and final child, I was inspired to look I to becoming an IBCLC. I decided on Pathway 1 and am currently on my way to becoming a RN and hope to sit for the IBLCE exam within the next couple years 🙂

  17. Yes this inspired me currently completing my health science classes and saving to do pathway two with Drexel university. Just completed my CLC and passed! Do you have a blog I would love to hear more about your experience and your journey to ibclc.

  18. Well said! A lot of time and money spent! It is so very worth it! Oh yes and the cost of conferences to get cerps, cost of re-cert every 5 years and then to Completely retest by exam every 10 yrs. I will be doing that test for the 3rd time this year.
    Thanks for your post!!

  19. I really want to do this. I am not sure which pathway to go with or anything. But I do know that the lc from wic wasn’t much help for anything. All she did was give me a postcard with the week long test dates and places for the clc.

      1. I have a BA in supply chain management and after 17 years in the professional business world I want to become a IBCLC (after being a breastfeeding mom for 2 years and 5 months and still going). In your opinion, should I become a CLC before IBCLC? I’m worried that focusing on CLC instead of the 14 health science courses I need will be a waste of time.

        1. I thought CLC was a good stepping stone, it gave me a very basic overview. It’s a lot of money, though, so you may be better off skipping straight to IBCLC. It just depends how you’ll get your clinical hours!

  20. Absolutely fantastic, there is so much work involved in that title and it’s one that people should be proud of! I’m not personally any kind of lactation consultant, but we have one on staff and we’re so thankful for all of the knowledge she brings to not only us, but to our community. Thank you for this post, we can’t wait to share it :).

    1. so proud to have you as a colleague. So proud to be an IBCLC. Oh the lives we have touched. The families we have had the privilege to meet!

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