What is a Lactation Consultant?
A lactation consultant is someone with many years of practical experience as a breastfeeding consultant and- has passed the International Board of Lactation Consultants Examiners exam and can put the initials I.B.C.L.C. (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) after their name.
How do I become a lactation consultant?
There are three pathways to achieve your IBCLC. The International Board of Certified Lactation Consultant Examiners website contains an interactive way to assess which pathway would be best for you.
The IBLCE Exam Blueprint lists the areas you should be knowledgeable in.
1. Become very knowledgeable about the latest information on breastfeeding.
If you are not already a health-care provider, a good book to read is Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple by Nancy Mohrbacher. Easy to read and very well researched, it is an excellent resource to use when counseling breastfeeding mothers.
Make sure the books you are reading are recent. Breastfeeding management has changed a lot in the last few years.
The Internet has a wealth of breastfeeding information. PubMed is an excellent resource for finding the latest journal articles. PubMed is the National Library of Medicine's search service that provides access to millions of research articles.
Read everything you can get your hands on, but be open to the fact that not all articles or books are accurate.
Be very critical while reading. Ask yourself the following questions when reading articles:
- Where was the study published? Was it published in a reputable journal?
- When was the study published? Is it recent?
- How many study participants were there? The more participants, the more valid the results.
- How many controls? The controls tell you what happened to a similar group who did not have the study intervention — if the results are similar, the intervention had very little impact.
- How was breastfeeding defined? Was it exclusive breastfeeding, any amount of breastfeeding, ever breastfed? Exclusive breastfeeding is more valid.
- How was the study conducted? Were the interventions something you might have a breastfeeding mom do?
- How realistic was the study? Were the circumstances of the study something your moms might encounter?
- How were the findings described by the authors? Did the authors say the findings were definitive or did they say more studies need to be conducted?
- Do you agree with the authors' conclusions? Based on what you read in the article, do the conclusions seem realistic?
- Can you apply the conclusions practically? Would you ask a mom to try the intervention?
- Who funded the study? Was the study funded by a company who might have an interest in the outcome of the study? Might this bias the design of the study and/or the results?
- Are the references recent?
2. Take a course on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding management has changed a lot in the last few years. Check out the courses listed on the International Lactation Consultant Association website. The Department of State Health Services is included on this list. Learn more about breastfeeding courses offered by DSHS.
3. Get practical experience working as a breastfeeding counselor. You will need 300–1,000 hours (depending on your educational background and the pathway you choose) of practice as a breastfeeding counselor before you can take the lactation-consultant exam.
You can get that experience by working in a setting where you come in contact with breastfeeding mothers like a hospital, birthing center, a WIC clinic, or a doctor's office.
You can also get practical experience by volunteering your time in a setting where you will come in contact with breastfeeding mothers (hospital, La Leche League, WIC clinic, doctor's office).
The documentation of the time you spend providing breastfeeding counseling needs to show your plan of care, follow-up, and results. This documentation can be very beneficial to you as case studies to help you study for the exam.
If you are working with breastfeeding mothers in a volunteer capacity, you need to keep accurate track of the hours you spend. Many times, people are not aware of how many contact hours they have accrued and may fall short or be qualified to sit for the exam sooner.
Do not limit yourself to one area of breastfeeding. If you are working in a hospital, visit a La Leche League meeting or a WIC clinic to learn about the issues associated with breastfeeding older children. Do a home visit to see a breastfeeding mother in her home environment. If you work in a doctor's office or WIC clinic, go to the hospital to see the infant in those first 48 hours, and see the effects of delivery on feeding difficulties.
4. Join the International Lactation Consultant's Association. As a member, you will receive the Journal of Human Lactation, the ILCA Globe, and discount registration fees for the annual ILCA Conference.
5. Join LactNet — a free e-mail user group for lactation information and discussion. To join, send an internet email. Leave the “subject” line blank. In the body of the message, type: JOIN LACTNET, your first name and last name, and credentials.
6. Improve your knowledge, skills, and contacts by going to breastfeeding conferences. The Texas Department of State Health Services offers several different classes each year. ILCA, La Leche League and other groups also conduct yearly breastfeeding conferences.
7. Take the Lactation Consultant exam once you have met the requirements. Join the growing ranks of dedicated health-care providers who are helping to make the world healthier by encouraging, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding!
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