A Mom’s Guide to Lactation Support
The One Where We Talk About Breastfeeding Experts
Guest blog by Felicia Miclette, Certified Lactation Counselor, Founder of Milk It Baby! Breastfeeding Support Group
Did you know there are approximately 130 million babies born worldwide each year and only 31,000 IBCLCs? Hold up. Before we address that question, I should probably make sure you know that an IBCLC is an abbreviation for a healthcare professional who supports all things breastfeeding (more on that later). But why are there so many babies and such a lack of lactation support? Before we answer that, let me explain the differences in lactation support so you can better understand what an IBCLC is and how lactation counselors can help you!
What is a Lactation Consultant?
Well, that can be tricky to differentiate because the term is quite vague. There is no trademark on “Lactation Consultant” so essentially anyone can call themselves one; however, there are different categories of lactation support: peer to peer, certified and professional.
Peer mentors, such as WIC peer mentors, Le Leche League leaders or Breastfeeding USA Counselors, are required to have personal breastfeeding experience from 6 months to 1 year and also complete ~15-50 hours or training - none of which is hands on.
Certified Lactation Support
Certified Lactation Support requires no personal experience but does require 20-120 hours of lactation-specific training and a written exam. You may see them called a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), Certified Breastfeeding Educator (CBE) or Certified Breastfeeding Specialist (CBS). Like peer mentors, most Certified Lactation Support professionals are not taught hands on skills. Most of their training is completed by either taking a 1 week class in person or online modules. Some of these certifications do require continuing education credits to keep their certification active. Many certified lactation support professionals call themselves Lactation Consultants because it’s a more generalized and recognizable term.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is considered the “gold standard” for lactation care. Unlike other lactation professionals, there are many requirements before you’re even eligible for the examination and certification to become an IBCLC.
Let’s break it down. To become an IBCLC, you’re required to complete the following:
14 prerequisite courses such as biology, human anatomy, nutrition, ethics, medical terminology and more OR be an approved medical professional
90 hours of lactation specific training
300-1,000 clinical hours is the last step to become an IBCLC candidate (number of clinical hours depends on the pathway pursued). .
But wait, there’s more. Finally, it’s time for the exam! The IBLCE (International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners) only offers the exam twice a year and can take up to 3 months to receive the final results.
It typically takes about 5 years to complete the requirements to become an IBCLC. Not to mention the dedication, commitment and financial obligation to complete the college courses, lactation specific training and mentorship. It’s quite the process!
After an IBCLC becomes certified, they are then required to complete 75 continuing education credits every 5 years. These credits range in cost and average about $15-25 per hour or credit. And, every 10 years, IBCLCs are required to re-certify by taking the boards again!
A Summary of Support
To sum it up, here’s a comparison to help you better understand the importance of each breastfeeding support person:
Peer counselors provide more of a “mom to mom” support while Certified Lactation Support counselors (e.g. CLC, CLE, CBS) are similar to a medical assistant. Both types of support have an important job to help patients, have basic background knowledge, and some experience with lactation care.
Continuing with this analogy, a Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) would be compared to a nurse. A nurse devotes a considerable amount of time and education to understand the complexities of different lactation support situations and how best to handle them. Each lactation professional is valued and important, and they do have different scopes and levels of education to support you on your journey.
So, why are there so few IBCLCs?
Getting back to my initial question, why are there so many babies and such few IBCLCs? Well, because it is such a long, time consuming and expensive process to become one and maintain the certification. Lack of support from insurance companies to recognize an IBCLC as a healthcare provider to help cover the costs of consultations does not help either.
How can an IBCLC help you?
An IBCLC can help you with all things lactation related. From breastfeeding courses, initial consultations in the hospital to follow up support at home, an IBCLC can guide you through the entire breastfeeding journey. Whether you need basic education or have a complex situation, an IBCLC will support you. Common reasons to reach out to an IBCLC include: experiencing a painful latch, low milk supply, over supply, relactation, induced lactation, mastitis, thrush or breast pumping advice. M Seek out a local lactation consultant to help you manage and resolve these issues.
Need help finding an IBCLC near you? Check out this resource to help you get started!
Get All the Experts On Your Team
Many moms think lactation consultants have a limited scope of what they can offer, but an IBCLC’s knowledge compliments the services offered by your infant’s pediatrician. For example, if your baby is not gaining weight adequately, working with an IBCLC and your pediatrician can help you create an individualized plan for you and your baby.
A lactation consultant is also an infant feeding specialist. It is a common misconception that because lactation consultants provide breastfeeding support means they are against formula. Not true! Just because they are providing lactation support does not mean they are against formula feeding. When supplementation is needed, they can work with you to get you, your baby and your milk supply on track..
Let’s be honest, not everyone can know everything! Many pediatricians and healthcare professionals do not know the current breastfeeding recommendations or understand how to resolve lactation-related issues. That’s why it is so important to have a variety of professionals who specialize in different things. Working together as an intricate healthcare team can maximize support and help families receive optimal care.
Who Ya Gonna Call?!
So, when you need to reach out for lactation support, I hope this article helps you navigate the different levels of breastfeeding support that are available. When you call your local IBCLC, it won’t be a letdown!
“When in doubt, reach out!” Happy National IBCLC Day!
For more information on “Who’s Who?” and understanding the difference in lactation support, here’s a great resource.
About the Author: Oh, hey! My name is Felicia. I am a Licensed Practical Nurse and Certified Lactation Counselor. I currently work per diem at our local hospital teaching breastfeeding classes and providing lactation support on the same maternity unit where I delivered my two babies. When I’m not at work, studying, chasing my two toddlers around, jamming to 90s or pop2k in my minivan, you can find me in my breastfeeding support group, Milk It Baby!