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Lactation Consultant: Education and Career Information

If you have a passion for nutrition and helping others, then becoming a lactation consultant may be the career for you. A lactation consultant, also known as an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), is a medical specialist who teaches mothers how to breastfeed their newborns. IBCLCs are now common sights in the maternity ward as more mothers than ever are choosing to breastfeed their children. The demand for knowledgeable lactation consultants continues to increase as more parents become aware of the benefits of breastfeeding.

A lactation consultant should not be confused with a lactation counselor. Lactation counselors, though invaluable in helping new mothers sort through their infant feeding options, need fewer courses and internship hours to become certified.

Lactation consultants, on the other hand, undergo extensive clinical training and education to become full-fledged medical professionals. The path is long and requires dedication, but the career is rewarding for anyone who loves babies, empowering mothers, and promoting excellent nutrition for babies.

What does a lactation consultant do?

A lactation consultant maximizes the chances of mothers and babies to have a successful breastfeeding relationship. To give the baby the best start in life, lactation consultants provide critical support and education to mothers about the mechanics and benefits of nursing.

As of 2017, new mothers are still living in the aftermath of a generation that rejected breastfeeding in favor of formula. Now that research has proven that nursing provides critical nutrition to newborns, IBCLCs are growing in numbers to help mothers relearn the art of breastfeeding.

Though breastfeeding is natural, it often doesn’t come as second nature. It can be daunting, especially for first-time mothers. Lactation consultants exist to empower mothers to overcome breastfeeding problems and to also troubleshoot common breastfeeding barriers like infant upper-lip tie.

The information IBCLCs provide can also prevent nursing problems and reduce the chances of post-partum depression due to lactation failure. IBCLCs also offer phone support to mothers who encounter barriers anytime during their breastfeeding journey, which reduces the chances of early weaning.

How much does a lactation consultant earn?

A lactation consultant can earn around $78,000 a year on average, but salaries can start at $69,000 or climb up to $87,000, depending on the IBCLC’s experience and qualifications.

What type of skills are required to be a successful lactation consultant?

Being a lactation consultant takes a particular set of skills that will form you into a solid medical professional.

Active listening – You need to be all ears. While you’re on your feet, you need to be able to multitask, yet fully understand the mother’s concerns and questions.

Excellent bedside manners – Many new mothers are feeling overwhelmed and tired, especially if this is their first baby or if they have a history of lactation failure. Having compassionate bedside manners while the mother is learning to breastfeed is critical to being a good lactation consultant.

Good speaking skills – The information you provide is often new and requires a learning curve for new mothers, so proper communication skills are a must.

Writing – As you are actively listening to the mother and her breastfeeding issues, you’ll need to be an adept note taker so that you’ll have good records of her needs.

Time management – Babies come at unexpected times and you may find that you’re needed in two places at once! Learning to manage your time wisely is key to becoming a helpful lactation consultant.

Thorough knowledge of lactation and its common problems – You’ll need a complete education on lactation in order to fully inform women who want to be successful at nursing. This will involve at least 14 college courses, extensive clinical hours, and a certification exam.

What are the internship requirements?

Your internship requirements will vary based on the path you take to certification. The IBLCE (International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners) offers 3 paths toward certification that each contain different clinical hour requirements, ranging from 500-1,000 hours based on the quality of your internships and education history.

You’ll also need to obtain internships that are preapproved by the IBLCE for them to count toward the hour quota. No matter what path you take and how many hours are required for your path, you’ll need to complete them within 5 years before applying for the IBLCE exam.

Your internship can be composed of a variety of qualified experiences regarding breastfeeding. For example, you can work at a practice under a professional’s direct supervision, attend breastfeeding workshops, or take periodic exams. No matter what path you choose, be sure to check with the IBLCE, which internships will count toward your certification so you make the best use of your time.

What are the educational requirements?

Overall, you’ll need to pass the IBLCE exam to become an official lactation consultant. You’ll need to have 14 college level courses under your belt to qualify for taking the exam. Naturally, this means that you need to have a GED or high school diploma as a prerequisite to taking any college courses.

Here is the list of the first eight required courses, according to Lactation Education Resources:

•Biology
•Human Anatomy
•Human Physiology
•Infant & Child Growth and Development
•Introduction to Clinical Research
•Nutrition
•Psychology /Counseling Skills/Communication Skills
•Sociology/Cultural Sensitivity/Cultural Anthropology

There are also six general education classes that you need to become a lactation consultant:

•Basic Life Support
•Medical Documentation
•Medical Terminology
•Occupational Safety and Security for Health Professionals
•Professional Ethics for Health Professionals
•Universal Safety Precautions and Infection Control

As you can see, the requirements for becoming a lactation consultant are just as involved as becoming any other medical professional. Many lactation consultants are also RNs, which increases their marketability since hospitals can also hire them to serve other patient needs. It’s completely possible to not be a nurse and still be a lactation consultant, however, your education path will be more rigorous to bolster your medical knowledge.

After you have completed your required clinical hours and college courses, you should be cleared to take the IBLCE exam. When you pass the exam, you’ll have become a certified lactation consultant.

Continual education is required

As with all great professions, lactation consultants will need to pursue ongoing training and education to keep their certifications current. As new discoveries and best practices are continually updated in this field, lactation consultants need to stay on top of the latest knowledge to best serve their patients.

Being a lactation consultant is a rewarding profession for anyone who likes babies, nutrition, empowering new mothers, and being on the forefront of the medical industry. The salary is generous and the rewards are great as well. If you have been considering a career with real demand and future growth, becoming an IBCLC may be right for you.

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