How I Become an IBCLC Lactation Consultant with NO Medical Background or Breastfeeding Experience
Hey guys! If you are reading this, you most likely want to know more about how to become an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant with NO previous medical background. I can’t tell you the amount of questions I get when I tell people I’m a lactation consultant.
“You mean you don’t have to be a nurse to do that?”
“Do you have to have a certain degree to become a lactation consultant?”
It is true that medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, speech pathologists, and nutritionists can also be lactation consultants however, the medical backgrounds they have is not a requirement! In fact, you don’t even need a degree to become a lactation consultant! There are plenty of NON medical lactation consultants that have had no previous medical training or even breastfeeding experience! In this post I will talk about the required education, online training, clinical hours, and exam requirements needed to become a lactation consultant. I will also list the financial costs involved and helpful resources that I constantly referred back to throughout the process.
To start, I will briefly talk about my background and how I stumbled into the sweet field of lactation consulting! I attended Baylor University and graduated with my degree in child development and family studies. Throughout my coursework I learned about breastfeeding and was fascinated about its effects on infant & toddler development. Long story short, I fell in love with the field of lactation and knew I wanted to aim high and certify as an IBCLC. As soon as I graduated, I dove right in. I dove right into a big mess of “OH MY GOSH this is the most confusing process with way too much information and steps.” I was overwhelmed with it all and desperately sought to find someone who had been in my shoes and had successfully navigated through the process. Unfortunately, I could not find one person who had a similar background as me: NOT a health care professional, NO breastfeeding experience, NO clinical experience. I spent hours on end calling around to find help, but it seemed that I only received the opposite. Discouragement. A lot of “I haven’t met a person in this profession without a medical degree” and “Maybe you should go to nursing school first then become an IBCLC because it’s easier.”
So, instead of giving up I treaded water day after day to make this dream of mine come to fruition. I worked through the complicated process (stumbling mostly) but came out the other side successfully. I may have cried many, many tears but here I am people, an IBCLC.
Now I am wanting to be here for YOU. I want to be a source of help and encouragement through your journey of becoming an IBCLC. To answer the hard questions, make recommendations, share experiences; what worked and what didn’t. So, if you desire to become an IBCLC and you currently feel stuck or have no idea where to start, read on! But more importantly, reach out. I am here for ya! You CAN do it.
From start to finish it took me a total of 14 months to complete the process of becoming a lactation consultant. Keep in mind, however, that I had all my college courses completed (more on that soon!) through my undergraduate degree so the time it took to complete those courses are not included in my 14-month timeline. Also, there is no time crunch for finishing this process! You can go as quickly or slowly as desired to fit your current lifestyle!
To start, there are three “Pathways” one of which will fit you best in becoming an IBCLC. This is where my initial confusion began; I didn’t know which pathway to take. I’ll save you the fuss and lead you to where you need to go, PATHWAY 3.
Pathway 3 is the correct pathway to take if you are currently NOT a health care professional. This is the pathway I took. If you are a health care professional or are a graduate from an university program, click here to find out more of the correct pathway for you.
There is no previous experience or education required for Pathway 3. The requirements for a pathway 3 candidate are:
1. College courses and general education
2. 90 hours of lactation specific training
3. 500 hours of supervised clinic training
COLLEGE COURSES AND GENERAL EDUCATION
There are 8 health science courses that are required. These courses are:
2. Human anatomy
3. Human physiology
5. Psychology or counseling or communication skills
6. Infant and child growth and development
8. Introduction to nutrition
The basic “101” level of each of these courses is all that is necessary. These can be taken online, at a community college and are also offered through Lactation Education Resources (LER), an organization I’ll speak more about later. For me, I took these courses at Baylor University as part of my undergraduate degree. If you have completed any of these courses than they count! If you are uncertain if your previous courses count, click here.
All of the above courses need to be completed PRIOR to entering into clinical hours.
There are 6 general education courses necessary to complete. These courses are:
1. Basic life support CPR
2. Medical documentation
3. Professional ethics for health professionals
4. Medical terminology
5. Occupational safety and security for health professions
6. Universal safety precautions and infection control
These are all taken online except for basic CPR which can be taken at a local hospital or Red Cross. Medical documentation and Professional ethics are included in the 90 hours of lactation specific education which I will talk about next. The remaining courses are available to take online through LER. Like I stated, these general education courses are online and in the format of a PowerPoint presentation. They are honestly super easy to follow and do not take much time to complete! For me, it took no longer than an hour to complete teach excluding basic life support CPR.
LACTATION SPECIFIC EDUCATION
Next up, 90 hours of lactation specific education! I purchased this through Lactation Education Resources (or LER). This site is super helpful and is where I completed my lactation specific training and general education courses.
They offer 90 hours of lactation specific training via PowerPoint presentations. You are able to watch and listen to these PowerPoint presentations as much as you need or want. Included in the 90-hour training are 2 of the 6 general education courses; medical documentation and professional ethics. These too are in the same PowerPoint format. Once you complete all 90 hours, you obtain the title of certified breastfeeding specialist! This may help you gain employment while you work clinical hours however this was not the case for me.
Personally, I enjoyed the format of the 90-hour lactation specific training. Since it was all online and in the format of PowerPoint with voiceovers, I went at my own pace and was able to re-visit PowerPoints when necessary. The PowerPoints again were easy to follow and understand. At the end of each presentation there is a quiz that tests your understanding of the material but doesn’t count for anything. It took me 3 months total to complete the 90 hours at my own pace.
SUPERVISED CLINICAL TRAINING
Last but not least, the 500 clinical hours! The clinical portion requires you to reach 500 hours of hands on experience helping mommas and babies breastfeed. These hours HAVE to be supervised by a lactation consultant. This was honestly the most challenging part of my journey. Finding a hospital or clinic willing to take me on as an intern was hard. After lots of searching, calling around, and praying, I found a local hospital in my area that willingly took me in as an intern. Since finding a clinical location seems to be a hold up for many in this process, I recommend searching for a location from the beginning! I started calling around local hospitals and clinics around the time I started my 90-hour lactation specific training so by the time I completed the training (which took me 3 months) I had found and secured a clinical internship and was ready to start! (Remember, the 90 hours has to be finished PRIOR to clinical hours that count towards your total)
I was placed in the mother/baby lactation department where I trained under an amazing team of five lactation consultants that had over thirty years of experience each. That’s a combined 150+ years of experience! In my case, this was a full time, non-paid internship. Since I interned full time, it took me five months to complete all 500 clinical hours. If you are interested in knowing more about what clinical hours look like or have reached this point in your own lactation journey but are nervous for the next step, I have written a separate blog post covering the specifics and my personal experiences. Click HEREto read more on this!
Once you have completed all of the above requirements, you are now eligible to sit for the board exam!
The next step is to apply for the exam. Which must be done at least SIX MONTHS PRIOR to taking it. That’s right. There will be at least six months between the end of your clinical hours and sitting for the exam. It is only after completing your college and general education courses, 90 hours of lactation specific training, and the 500 clinical hours, that you can apply at least six months in advance to finally take your exam. I will be writing a post about what the exam process is like and my exam experience, so please stay tuned for that!
WHAT DOES IT COST
Finally, I have broken down the financial costs to becoming a lactation consultant. From application fees to course fees to the cost of the exam.
College Coursework: Varies by university/community college
90 Hours of Lactation Specific Training: $975.00
General Education Package: $99.00
Breastfeeding and Human Lactation 5th edition textbook: $181.40
Pathway 3 Plan Submission: $100.00
Examination Fee: $660.00
Possible Additional Costs: Malpractice insurance (I did not need this because my hospital provided it for me. Most established locations will carry this for you!)
I hope this can help guide your journey to becoming an IBCLC with no medical background. The journey is long and hard, but so worth it. Please reach out to me if you have any questions or find yourself on this journey and in need of encouragement!
Other Helpful Resources & Links to check out:
Lactation Education Resources (90-hour training):
Prepare for IBCLC Certification:
Certification Fees & Key Dates: