A lactation consultant assists breastfeeding mothers who experience difficulties with lactation. A lactation consultant provides advice, support and education for mothers, other health professionals and the community. In many states, a lactation consultant doesn't have to be licensed, but earning certification as a lactation consultant by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners attests to the training and level of knowledge acquired by the CLC, which inspires confidence and trust in patients.
The path to certification begins with a training program. Some universities offer a program for lactation consultants, though these classes are often geared toward those already in the medical profession, such as midwives or labor and delivery nurses. Several online schools also offer training that prepares students to work as a certified lactation consultant. Other forms of instruction include seminars or conferences, often completed within a couple of weeks. Most education programs comprise at least 45 hours of instruction time.
For students without a medical background or experience, a program such as the Breastfeeding Self-Learning Modules, available through Lactation Education Resources, allows more flexibility for students to learn at their own pace. The self-learning modules typically include 90 hours of instruction time and cover a greater depth of medical knowledge for beginners.
In conjunction with a formal program, prospective lactation consultants must have a certain number of supervised clinical practice hours. Depending on the chosen pathway to achieve certification, the internship must be either 500 or 1,000 hours. Any time spent working with a patient can be counted toward the requirements. For example, a postnatal nurse can tally the time she spends helping new mothers with latching issues. For those without ready access to nursing mothers, the IBLCE recommends volunteering with La Leche League or a WIC program.
The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners offers the International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant exam once per year, on the last Monday of July. Candidates must have completed all classes and practicum hours before applying to take the test. As of 2011, the cost of the exam is $640, though early applicants receive a discount. After passing the exam, IBCLCs must complete 75 continuing education credits within five years to maintain certification.
Beginning in 2012, the requirements for certification will change slightly. Education programs must provide 90 hours of instruction instead of 45 hours. The student must have completed it within the previous five years before sitting for the exam. In addition, examinees must have finished at least one semester in eight advanced learning divisions -- such as biology, psychology and nutrition -- and continuing education credits in six other areas, including basic life support and medical terminology.