New mothers often become overwhelmed by unfamiliar tasks, but one aspect of motherhood that can be particularly stressful to figure out is breastfeeding. Determining the right position, if the infant has the right latch or if they’re sucking in air at the same time can be daunting for a new mom to figure out.
In most cases, they won’t have to go it alone. A lactation consultant can help the mom and baby become comfortable with breastfeeding by helping them both get used to how it works, as well as teaching them the best mealtime strategies.
Lactation consultants work with new mothers to help establish a breastfeeding routine. They can also assist with childcare concerns and issues. Once the mother is ready to return to work, a lactation consultant may give tips on how to build up a breast milk supply so that her baby can still have enough milk during the day.
Consultants work independently, or in a doctor’s office, hospital, birth center or lactation center. Doctors, nurses and other caregivers sometimes train to become lactation consultants so they can cater to their patients’ needs, but it is not required to have an established career as a healthcare professional to become a lactation consultant.
Lactation consultants need to be people-oriented, have patience, good communication skills and detail-oriented. They also should have good active listening skills, ability to motivate, awareness of other cultures and maintain professional conduct at all times.
Steps to Becoming a Lactation Consultant
If you want to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), there are requirements that the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) has set. To be eligible to take the exam, candidates must meet standards in:
- Health sciences education
- Lactation education
- Lactation clinical experience
Specifically, these standards include completing college courses in different sciences such as sociology, psychology, child development, anatomy, physiology, biology and nutrition. Courses in CPR, medical documentation, medical terminology, occupational safety, professional ethics and universal safety precautions must also be taken.
Ninety hours of lactation-specific education must be completed within five years prior to taking the exam. Clinical experience can be completed through three different pathways, according to the IBLCE:
- Pathway 1: Complete 1,000 hours in a supervised setting with recognized health professionals or breastfeeding support counselors.
- Pathway 2: Graduate from an IBLCE program with 300 hours of supervised lactation clinical experience.
- Pathway 3: Work 500 hours with an IBCLC, and get the plan verified by IBCLE before beginning.
The clinical experience must be direct practice and provision of lactation care, according to IBCLE. Just observing and shadowing will not count toward the clinical hours.
Those who currently hold a healthcare professional job may be exempt, as most will already have this experience.
Job Growth and Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track this occupation, but an online job search for lactation consultant or lactation nurse may show hospital-based positions that pay in the same range as registered nurse positions. According to the BLS, registered nurses made an average annual salary of $68,450 as of May 2016. The position is projected to grow 15% by 2026.
By 2020, the Centers for Disease Control have a goal of ensuring that 81.9% of babies born in the U.S. are breastfed at some point. Because of this goal, the need for lactation consultants may increase as new mothers need guidance and support.