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Lactation Consultant

Occupational Description

Lactation consultants are allied healthcare professionals with specialized knowledge and clinical expertise in breastfeeding and human lactation. They offer an adjunct service that builds on the relationship between breastfeeding families and their healthcare providers. Lactation consultants are the primary member of the healthcare team to advocate for the breastfeeding families with a focus on preventing, recognizing, and solving breastfeeding difficulties. Most lactation consultants have educational and clinical backgrounds in the health professions or mother-to-mother support. Many are registered nurses and others may be physicians, dietitians, speech therapists, midwives, and other health professionals. A growing interest in the profession also attracts students who enter directly into the lactation consulting field.

Job Description

Lactation consultants are allied healthcare professionals with specialized knowledge and clinical expertise in breastfeeding and human lactation. They offer an adjunct service that builds on the relationship between breastfeeding families and their healthcare providers. Lactation consultants are the primary member of the healthcare team to advocate for the breastfeeding families with a focus on preventing, recognizing, and solving breastfeeding difficulties. Most lactation consultants have educational and clinical backgrounds in the health professions or mother-to-mother support. Many are registered nurses and others may be physicians, dietitians, speech therapists, midwives, and other health professionals. A growing interest in the profession also attracts students who enter directly into the lactation consulting field.

Employment Characteristics

Lactation consultants work in a variety of settings including hospitals, public health clinics, maternal and child health services, private medical practices, home health agencies, community and workplace settings, and in private practice.
 
Most lactation consultants are employed in healthcare settings. Lactation consultants in hospitals provide education, support, and assistance to breastfeeding patients in the early days of breastfeeding and serve as a resource for other staff members. The international Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative has increased the number of lactation consultants employed in hospitals throughout the world. Smaller hospitals may have one lactation consultant for inpatient care on a part-time basis. Hospitals with a large number of births may employ a team of lactation consultants, provide 24-hour inpatient coverage, and offer both inpatient and outpatient services where families are followed through later stages of breastfeeding. Lactation consultants employed in obstetric, pediatric, and family practice groups provide care through many stages of breastfeeding and may visit patients from the practice in the hospital after the baby arrives. They may work specific hours in the practice or on-call as needed.
 
Lactation consultants employed in public health and community settings may provide one-on-one counseling, breastfeeding classes, and postpartum support groups. Examples of public health settings include the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in the United States and the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP). These programs employ lactation consultants as breastfeeding experts in their clinics and follow families through all stages of breastfeeding. Home health care agencies may employ lactation consultants to visit families in their homes. Businesses in the community may contract with lactation consultants to provide lactation education, assistance, and support to their breastfeeding employees. Lactation consultants may work with families through a private practice in the community where they meet the needs of families throughout the breastfeeding journey.

Educational Programs

Length: Accredited programs range between 1 and 4 years (certificate, associate, baccalaureate, and master’s level), depending on the program design, prerequisites, and student qualifications.
 
Prerequisites: Accredited programs qualify graduates to meet the requirements of the academic pathway (Pathway 2) for the certification exam through the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®). Therefore, students entering the accredited lactation program must meet IBLCE entrance requirements. Applicants must demonstrate satisfactory completion of the following courses at a post-secondary college level: biology, research, human anatomy, human physiology, child development, basic nutrition, psychology, and sociology. They must also have completed instruction in medical documentation, medical terminology, health profession ethics, occupational safety, universal safety precautions, infection control, and basic life support.
 
Curriculum: Curricula of accredited programs include didactic instruction, laboratory experiences, and clinical instruction. Didactic instruction may be in-class on campus or through distance education. Clinical instruction settings include hospitals, clinics, private practice, and community support groups. Clinical instruction may be in the vicinity of the program’s campus or in the student’s home community through an agreement with the program provider. Graduates must demonstrate competence in communication and counseling; documentation and communication; history taking and assessment; prenatal and perinatal breastfeeding support; extended breastfeeding support; problem solving; infant/child breastfeeding challenges; parental breastfeeding challenges; public health; research, legislation and policy; professional responsibilities and practice; and leadership and teaching.

Inquiries

The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) develops and administers the certification examination for lactation consultants. This certification program was accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) upon initial application in 1988 and has been continuously accredited since that time. Certification as an IBCLC is voluntary. Currently, licensure is not required in the lactation consultant profession. In the United States, IBCLCs may also use the designation Registered Lactation Consultant (RLC) in conjunction with the IBCLC. Candidates for all three pathways to qualifying to take the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) exam must complete a minimum of 90 hours of lactation education, as well as specified general education in the health sciences and clinical experience in providing lactation and breastfeeding care. Pathway 2, the postsecondary academic pathway, requires that the program be accredited by CAAHEP or a similar accrediting agency.

Certification/Registration

The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) develops and administers the certification examination for lactation consultants. This certification program was accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) upon initial application in 1988 and has been continuously accredited since that time. Certification as an IBCLC is voluntary. Currently, licensure is not required in the lactation consultant profession. In the United States, IBCLCs may also use the designation Registered Lactation Consultant (RLC) in conjunction with the IBCLC. Candidates for all three pathways to qualifying to take the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) exam must complete a minimum of 90 hours of lactation education, as well as specified general education in the health sciences and clinical experience in providing lactation and breastfeeding care. Pathway 2, the postsecondary academic pathway, requires that the program be accredited by CAAHEP or a similar accrediting agency.
 
International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE)
10301 Democracy Lane, Suite 400
Fairfax, VA 22030
Phone: 703-560-7330
Website: www.iblce.or

Careers/Curriculum

The Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee (LEAARC) published the Core Curriculum for Interdisciplinary Lactation Care in 2019. The text reflects the current state of practice and the curriculum required in the CAAHEP Standards and Guidelines for the Accreditation of Lactation Consultant Education Programs
 
Lactation Education Accreditation and Approval Review Committee (LEAARC) 
110 Horizon Drive, Suite 210
Raleigh, NC 27615
Phone: 919-459-6106
Website: www.leaarc.org
 
International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®
110 Horizon Drive, Suite 210
Raleigh, NC 27615
Phone: 919-861-5577
Website: www.ilca.or