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
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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