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How to Become a Lactation Consultant [Step-By-Step]

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Most hospitals offer counseling with a lactation specialist to support moms with their breastfeeding journey.

With a massive shortage of such jobs, you might want to join the profession and wonder how to become a lactation consultant.

The problem is that becoming a certified lactation specialist can be overwhelming.

Luckily, this article will guide you through three simple steps to help you pursue this rewarding career!

An Overview of Lactation Consulting: A Primer

As the name implies, a lactation consultant is a healthcare professional who is an expert in human lactation. They provide support, guidance, and education to nursing parents to help them with breastfeeding issues.

Such difficulties include sore nipples, breastfeeding positions, and low milk supply, among other problems. Solving the latter can be helpful if you plan on selling breast milk.

The core responsibilities of a lactation care provider include:

  • Assessing breastfeeding techniques: lactation consultants observe the nursing process to identify challenges. Those include improper latching and a lack of coordination between sucking, swallowing, and breathing by the newborn.
  • Providing education and support: A certified breastfeeding counselor provides evidence-based resources and guidelines for proper lactating techniques, nipple care, and weaning, among other related topics.
  • Assisting with breastmilk pumping: This includes guiding pump usage as well as breastmilk collection and storage.
  • Collaborating with other healthcare providers: Lactation consultants usually work alongside other healthcare professionals, like pediatricians, obstetricians, and nurses. That’s to ensure coordinated care for a breastfeeding mother and her newborn.

Aside from the clinical aspect, a lactation consultant provides emotional support and encouragement, which is vital for breastfeeding moms as the former process can be emotionally challenging.

That’s especially true during the first few weeks of your baby’s life, when it can be difficult to establish breastfeeding. A lactation professional helps you achieve a long, successful breastfeeding experience.

How Much Do Lactation Consultants Make?

A female lactation consultant smiling to a newborn child held by his mother baby in a hospital room

A lactation care provider can make between $50,000 and $90,000 annually, with $79,000 being the average salary. The former earnings are for full-time positions.

While it’s one of the more uncommon side hustles, some nurses with an IBCLC certification choose this job as a side gig to earn extra income. In that case, they usually make around $37-$41 an hour.

Of course, the salary range can differ depending on your location and experience level. For instance, experienced IBCLC-certified lactation consultants can make over $100,000 annually.

What You’ll Need to Become a Lactation Consultant [& Associated Costs]

As you might have guessed, becoming a lactation consultant requires many hours of healthcare education and training.

Although you can go through different pathways to become a certified lactation specialist, you typically need to complete the following requirements:

1. Health science education

All lactation consultants must complete their education for a health profession or take 14 prerequisite courses in health science. However, only eight of those subjects are credited.

The latter includes biology, human anatomy, physiology, and more. You must also complete social science courses like psychology.

The good news is that you can complete the former subjects at any accredited institution of higher education. However, you don’t need to cover these topics if you’ve completed a healthcare degree.

Now, the cost depends on two factors: the university you choose to complete those courses and the credit hours of each subject.

Generally, private universities charge an average of $1000-$1200 per credit hour, while two-year public or community colleges charge around $140. Non-credited courses are usually between $100-$200.

2. Lactation Specific Education

Aside from completing your formal degree or taking the prerequisite classes, you need to complete 90 hours of lactation-specific education.

Plus, you have to take an additional 5 hours of communication skills for lactation consulting. That usually costs between $800-$2000.

You also need to complete clinical hours to gain experience in breastfeeding counseling.

However, if you choose to enroll in an accredited program, you’ll usually complete 300 hours of lactation education and clinical hours together. Such packages can cost $20,000 or more.

3. IBCLC Exam

You must pass the IBCLC exam to become a certified lactation consultant. The former opens twice a year and has an initial examination fee of $660. Retakes cost $330, while recertification exams are $470.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Lactation Consultant?

You can expect to pay $4000-$25,000 to complete the prerequisite course, assuming that each subject is three credit hours.

Aside from that, you’ll pay an additional $1500-$3000 for lactation-specific education.

Keep in mind that other expenses, like student liability insurance, background checks, and more, aren’t included in the total cost.

Is it Hard to Become a Lactation Consultant?

Generally, yes! Becoming a lactation consultant is no easy feat; it requires a lot of work.

You need to complete 14 college-level courses, 95 hours of lactation-specific education, and between 300-1000 hours of clinical experience! You also must pass the IBCLC exam to practice this profession.

Not to mention, you have to recertify every 5 years, or you’re no longer permitted to work as a lactation counselor.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Lactation Consultant?

A female lactation consultant checking a sitting mother feeding her baby in a living room

Usually, it takes around one year to finish all IBLCE requirements and become a lactation specialist. However, you have up to five years to complete the certification.

How to Become a Lactation Consultant in 3 Simple Steps

To become a lactation consultant, you need to meet the education requirements and complete lactation-specific education. You can accomplish the latter through three different pathways.

Here’s a detailed explanation of how to become a lactation consultant:

Step 1: Meet the Educational Requirements

As described by IBLCE’s education guide, you must complete 14 prerequisite subjects in health science to become a certified breastfeeding counselor. Those include:

  • Biology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Human Physiology
  • Infant and Child Growth and Development
  • Introduction to Clinical Research
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology or Counselling Skills or Communication skills
  • Sociology or Cultural Sensitivity or Cultural Anthropology
  • 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

You can skip this step if you’re a healthcare provider or registered nurse. All you do is submit copies of your transcripts, degree, or any proof that you work in the clinical health profession with your IBCLC application.

Step 2: Complete Lactation-Specific Education

You must complete lactation-specific education to qualify for the IBCLC exam, even if you’re a registered healthcare worker. The former is a 95-hour program consisting of 90 hours of lactation-related courses and 5 hours of communication-focused subjects.

Aside from that, you must complete certain hours of clinical practice to meet IBCLC eligibility criteria. Now, you have three options to complete the former step; here’s a detailed explanation of each:

Pathway 1

Like all pathways, you must satisfy the health sciences education requirements to become a healthcare worker. You also need to complete 95 hours of lactation-specific training.

In that case, you must complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of supervised lactation-specific clinical training. You can accomplish the former by working or volunteering as a breastfeeding counselor in an IBLCE-recognized breastfeeding counselor organization.

Pathway 2

To avoid the hassle of finding a place to complete the clinical hours, you can enroll in a comprehensive academic program that combines lactation-specific education with 300 hours of clinical practice.

During this pathway, you work directly under an IBCLC-certified supervisor.

Pathway 3

Like pathway 1, you must complete the prerequisite health science education and the lactation-specific program.

However, instead of volunteering in an organization or enrolling in an academic program, you finish the clinical training through mentorship.

In that case, you only need to complete 500 hours under the supervision of an IBCLC mentor.

Step 3: Take the IBCLC Exam

All the above requirements must be completed within 5 years before your exam. Once you’re done, all you need to do is apply for the IBCLC test!

Head to IBLCE’s website and create an account. Select the pathway you’ve completed and fill out the application form. Schedule the date and pay the fees. Now, all you have to do is pass the exam, and you’re done!

Reasons to Consider Becoming a Lactation Consultant

A cute baby smiles as his mother talks to her lactation consultant

Sure, becoming a lactation consultant requires a lot of time and effort. However, the job offers several perks.

Here are four reasons to consider a career in breastfeeding consulting:

  • High earning potential: Lactation consultant jobs are in demand, and they won’t disappear anytime soon. That’s because, for every 1000 newborns, only four become certified breastfeeding counselors. Such a shortage could lead to competitive salaries.
  • Varied work settings: As a lactation care provider, you can work in different places. Those include hospitals, private clinics, community health centers, or independent consultants.
  • Continuous learning and professional development: The field of lactation consulting is ever-evolving. With new research, guidelines, and techniques, joining the former career means that you’ll constantly advance and enhance your abilities.
  • Personal fulfillment: Most new moms experience breastfeeding problems, which can be emotionally draining for both the parents and the baby. Supporting families on their breastfeeding journey and overall well-being can be rewarding.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common FAQs in case you still have questions about lactation consulting:

What is the Highest Level of Lactation Consultant?

Obtaining an IBCLC certificate is the highest level of training a lactation care provider can achieve. The former requires extensive educational hours and clinical practice.

What is the Difference Between a Lactation Nurse and a Lactation Consultant?

Both are lactation specialists with the same lactation training and job responsibilities. 

However, a lactation nurse is a registered nurse who has completed additional training to become a lactation consultant. Not all breastfeeding counselors are nurses, and vice versa.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

Here are similar gigs to check out if lactation counseling isn’t an option for you anymore:

  • How to Become a Doula: Apply for a doula training program, choose a specialization, and obtain a certification.
  • How to Become a Surrogate: You must be at least 21 and younger than 40. Complete the medical screening and match with the intended parents.
  • How to Become a Nutritionist: Complete your bachelor’s degree in clinical nutrition. Gain practical experience and get certified.

Wrapping Up

Figuring out how to become a lactation consultant can be overwhelming. You need to complete specific education and training hours. Plus, you must pass the IBCLC exam.

While the journey can be challenging at first, working as a lactation consultant can be fulfilling!

If you found this article informative, spread the knowledge and share it with your friends. And let us know your thoughts or questions in the comment section below.

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