And how does it differ from other lactation consultants?
Updated March 1st 2023
The first Wednesday in March is IBCLC day. A day dedicated to all the support IBCLCs provide to families so what better day to share about what an IBCLC is than today.
When you’re expecting a baby, you might have people tell you about lactation consultants and how they are people who can help you breastfeed. Or, you might not discover this kind of support until after you give birth if you didn’t plan for feeding ahead of time.
Some people assume the nurses in the hospital are lactation consultants. Some people assume La Leche League leaders are lactation consultants. Both of those assumptions could be correct given the fact that anyone can use the term Lactation Consultant. It’s not a protected title. It’s not one that requires a specific skill set or education. Essentially, anyone after completing a short course or breastfeeding their own babies could call themselves a “lactation consultant” which can be a dangerous thing. Most people who use that term to describe what they do however, have some kind of education or experience in lactation.
Clinically difficult circumstances call for the support of an IBCLC. For example, weighing a baby before and after feeding to determine how much milk was transferred is out of scope for someone other than an IBCLC. If someone sees you for an in home visit and has a scale with them for weighted feeds, they need to be an IBCLC.
What is an IBCLC?
An IBCLC is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. They are a healthcare professional that specializes in human lactation and human milk feeding which includes breastfeeding/chestfeeding/body feeding/bottle feeding and infant supplementation with human milk or formula milk. They hold the highest credential possible in lactation care. It is the gold standard because it is a globally recognized certification. IBCLCs have met a set of very specific requirements and passed an internationally administered board exam (more on this below).
IBCLCs can work in hospitals, clinics/medical offices and some go into business for themselves and open a private practice. Some IBCLCs are also nurses or doctors but it’s not a requirement to become an IBCLC.
How do you become an IBCLC?
Becoming an IBCLC requires years of work. It’s requires 14 specific health and science courses, a minimum of 95 hours of specific lactation education, Basic Life Support Certification and hundreds if not thousands of clinical hours (hands on experience) working with and supporting breastfeeding and human milk feeding families before you’re even eligible to apply for the board exam (you can learn more about this below). So while it’s a certification, there is still a globally administered board exam that needs to be passed and it’s issued by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE).
This board also holds everyone who is certified to practice within a Scope of Practice and act according to Code of Professional Conduct.
After someone is certified, they have to re-certify every 5 years proving they’ve continued supporting families as well as continued learning by earning a minimum of 75 continuing education credits. We also have to keep our Basic Life Support up to date.
Thinking about becoming an IBCLC? Download my free series: 5 questions to ask yourself before becoming an IBCLC
What does an IBCLC do?
An IBCLC goes far beyond just helping you get a good latch. In addition to helping you and your baby get a comfortable latch, myself and other IBCLCs can also:
- Teach you how to increase your pump output
- Teach you what to look for to know your baby is getting enough milk
- Help you with bottle feeding
- Help you through a nursing strike
- Teach you how to support your teething baby
- Help you heal nipple damage (or prevent it from happening in the first place)
- Help you suppress your lactation if you don’t want to lactate
- Help you induce lactation if you want to co-nurse, nurse an adopted or surrogate baby
- Help you end your feeding relationship and wean
- Help you navigate medications and breastfeeding
- Help you nurse your multiples
- Teach you how to assemble your pumps
- Teach you about proper pump cleaning and sanitizing
- Teach you individually about safe formula preparation
- Teach you how to introduce solids to your little one
- And more!
IBCLCs are certified infant feeding experts who promote, protect and support breastfeeding. We can also be your sounding board, a trusted member of your healthcare team, your advocate and help you advocate for yourself and support you every step of the way to reach your goals for feeding your baby.
What about other certifications?
The only globally recognized certification is an IBCLC. There are many other forms of lactation certifications out there. Several types of certified educators and counsellors, each with their own scope of practice. The widest scope of practice, supporting you with the most challenging situations is the IBCLC.
Some people complete these other certifications as a stepping stone to becoming an IBCLC. The lactation education that happens within these certifications helps to fulfill the lactation education hours required to write the IBLCE board exam.
In summary, an IBCLC is a specialized healthcare professional dedicated to promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding and helping you reach your infant feeding goals.
You can have a closer look at the resource below which is IBLCE.org, the best place to begin if you’d like to learn more about becoming an IBCLC yourself.
If you’re curious about working with an IBCLC you can search this database to find one globally as well as this database to find one in Canada. You can also click the “work with me” tab and book a consultation with me.
To learn more about the specific steps and necessary requirements, check out IBCLE.org website below: