How much does IBCLC Pathway 3 cost?

If you’re drawn to becoming a lactation consultant, it’s likely not because you have dreams of becoming a millionaire (and don’t worry, there’s no risk of that!). Instead, it’s likely because you have a passion to help new families, you’re endlessly fascinated by the field of lactation, and you want to make this your work. But you also want to be realistic, especially given that it’s generally not a lucrative career. So it’s very fair that you’d wonder what your chosen pathway would cost. Is it affordable, and if so, how might you need to budget to make it happen? Specifically, how much would IBCLC Pathway 3 cost?

Costs can vary widely depending on which Pathway you take. This post focuses on the cost estimate just for Pathway 3. You can also find cost estimates for other Pathways here.

(Not sure which Pathway you would take? Read our overview of all the Pathways here, and more specifics about Pathway 3 here. Still not clear, or not sure which pathway is right for you? Check out our free webinars on understanding the IBCLC pathways.) 

We have done our best to break down costs for different components below. This can be confusing unless you have a good understanding of what each component of the pathways is – so go back and read the overview post if you’re not clear. Just to recap, the components common to all Pathways, including Pathway 3, are:

  1. Health Sciences Education: Either be an recognized health professional OR complete 14 prerequisite health science courses
  2. Lactation Education: Complete 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and 5 additional hours of communication skills specific to lactation
  3. Clinical Hours: Gain clinical experience in lactation care (number of hours varies based on the pathway)
  4. Exam: Take and pass the IBCLC exam (offered twice each year)

HEALTH SCIENCES EDUCATION:

*If you are an approved health care professional (or will be by the time you become an IBCLC), then you can skip this section (given that you’ve already completed your education – even though it probably wasn’t cheap! – we won’t factor it in.) Go ahead and skip to Clinical Hours.

If you are NOT an approved health care professional, you will need to complete the health sciences prerequisites, listed below and on the IBLCE site:

Credit Courses:

Must be taken for credit through an accredited educational institution:

  • 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

Start by determining how many of these you have already completed in your prior education – there is no expiration date for these courses, so even a course you completed many years ago can be eligible.

Now consider the courses you have remaining: the cost for these depends on where you complete your coursework. While the average cost per credit at a private university can be over $1000, at a community college average credit cost is around $140 (source), and many have courses available online. Keep in mind each course is usually 3 credits, so make sure you multiply cost per credit hour by number of credits you’ll need.

You can also find courses online through independent websites, which are often even lower-cost than community colleges. This Facebook group can be a helpful resource for finding online options for prerequisite education – frequently suggested include online resources like study.com and sophia.org (note that these courses must be taken for credit), and community colleges offering low-cost distance education.

COST: To calculate the cost of obtaining your prerequisites, determine: [Number of courses you need to complete] x [Cost per course] = Cost to complete prerequisites

Non-credit courses:

May be taken as continuing education (not for credit):

  • 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

These may be taken at local community colleges, and some are offered online as a package by several different educational providers. We strongly encourage you to complete your Basic Life Support (CPR) course in person. These courses vary in cost but are often $100-$200 total.

COST: $100-200

CLINICAL HOURS:

Pathway 3 Plan Submission:

IBLCE charges $100 for those completing Pathway 3 to submit their educational and mentorship plan.

COST: $100

Obtaining 500+ hours of hands-on lactation support:

This cost will vary widely as it will depend on your mentorship situation. (You may also find it useful to read about how to find a Pathway 3 mentor and how to reach out to potential mentors.)

  • If you find a mentor on your own, most mentors in private practice will charge a fee for their time: they will be spending significant time and energy teaching and supervising you, monitoring your progress, and meeting with you. 
  • You may also be able to pay for mentorship through a formal program that coordinates Pathway 3 mentors for you. 
  • Some people are able to obtain mentorship through a hospital or other health care organization where there is no fee, or fees are lower. 

Again, the range for mentorship varies widely, but it’s not uncommon for it to be in the $2000-$4000 range, and potentially higher depending on the mentor, your geographic location, and other factors. Keep in mind that what one person/program charges does not reflect on what another “should” charge – there are many different considerations affecting their fees.

COST: $0 (although this is unlikely)-$4,000+

LACTATION-SPECIFIC EDUCATION:

In Pathway 3, you must arrange for your own lactation-specific education. Some people complete this education requirement via taking continuing education courses or attending conferences intended for lactation consultants already in practice. They may attend regional or state conferences offered by lactation consultant associations, breastfeeding coalitions, hospitals, non-profits, and others. There are also online conferences, including GOLD Lactation and iLactation, which may make attendance more practical as they don’t have to travel. 

There are some drawbacks with this approach, though: Keep in mind that IBLCE encourages you to ensure your education covers all the topics on their Detailed Content Outline. Instead of a comprehensive foundation, conferences usually cover a “grab bag” of topics, some quite advanced, which are unlikely to cover everything you need to know. The focus of “continuing education” is exactly that: enhancing the knowledge of experienced practitioners, not on training a new generation of students. This can cause issues both with exam preparation and with your future practice as a lactation consultant: will you have the foundational skills and knowledge to serve your patients well? 

We encourage you to instead consider a comprehensive course that is intended for students who are training to be lactation consultants and preparing to take the IBCLC exam for the first time. There are many options, both in-person and online  – often at a cost that’s very comparable to trying to accumulate the hours via a patchwork of continuing education courses. NC State offers two online courses that give you all the hours you need, in a clear, sequential format, and taught by expert instructors; it’s the same course we teach in-person for our lactation trainees.

Note that starting with exam candidates in April 2021, you will be required to have 5 additional hours of education focused specifically on communication and counseling skills. We have these built into our program so that you can meet all of these requirements in one package.

COST: range from $800-1400. We are pleased to offer an affordable option at NC State – $800 for 110 hours of education, including 5 hours of communication/counseling skills.

OTHER EDUCATIONAL COSTS:

Textbooks/study materials

Each course’s requirements will differ, but it’s safe to factor in some cost for textbooks and any other required course materials.

COST: $100-200

Study materials/textbooks:

The class materials you use in your lactation-specific education usually serve as good study guides. Many people will also do additional online or in-person exam prep courses; consider budgeting another $100-$200 in exam prep materials.

COST: $100-200

OTHER EXPENSES:

Not all mentors/sites will require these, but they are “hidden” costs that are worth thinking about if you are considering a specific mentor and/or program.

Student liability insurance: Many programs and mentors will require you to purchase liability insurance (similar to malpractice insurance).

COST: ~$30

Background checks and/or drug screening: If these are required by your clinical site(s) prior to beginning work, you may need to pay for them yourself; this will vary depending on program, so investigate beforehand.

COST: ~$40-$70, highly dependent on the sites/services used

Required vaccinations: If you are not up-to-date on all required vaccination(s) for your clinical site(s), you will need to get them before you begin clinical work. Costs will vary significantly based on your health care plan, but generally are low for routine vaccinations. Note that you will likely need to update your flu shot yearly.

COST: Varies.

Clinical uniform: Your clinical site(s) may require you to purchase and wear a particular jacket, scrubs, or other uniform.

COST: $50-$100+, highly dependent on the site’s requirements.

MISCELLANEOUS EXPENSES:

Child care: if you need child care for taking courses, studying, going to volunteer trainings, and/or to earn your hours, calculate and add this cost as well.

Transportation: Factor in mileage if you will be driving to/from your clinical site(s), and any other associated transportation costs. Also consider travel to conferences, trainings, and meetings.

Finally…

EXAM:

Exam fees:

The cost to apply to take the exam in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe (as of 2020) is $660. Costs vary depending on region; check the IBLCE website for fees in your country/region.

COST: $660 (for those in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe; may be lower depending on your country/region)

TOTAL COSTS SUMMARY:

  • For those who are not recognized health professionals: Health Science courses for credit: Costs vary, and Health Science continuing education courses: $100-200
  • Pathway 3 plan submission: $100
  • Lactation-specific education (90 hours + 5 hours of counseling skills): $800-$1400 (may be less if you choose not to take a comprehensive course).
  • IBCLC Mentorship: $0-$4,000+
  • Other expenses (medical and background clearances, uniform): $0-$100+
  • Textbooks/study materials and exam prep materials and courses: $100-400
  • Exam fee: $660 (in the U.S./Canada as of 2020)
  • Don’t forget additional expenses such as child care and transportation, if they apply to you.

To get a cost estimate for yourself, add up the items on the list above that would apply to you – that’s a ballpark of how much IBCLC Pathway 1 costs might be for you.

Still have questions? Check out our webinars, explore more blog posts, and sign up for our newsletter to get more information and updates from MILK.

How much does IBCLC Pathway 2 cost?

If you’re drawn to becoming a lactation consultant, it’s likely not because you have dreams of becoming a millionaire (and don’t worry, there’s no risk of that!). Instead, it’s likely because you have a passion to help new families, you’re endlessly fascinated by the field of lactation, and you want to make this your work. But you also want to be realistic, especially given that it’s generally not a lucrative career. So it’s very fair that you’d wonder what your chosen pathway would cost. Is it affordable, and if so, how might you need to budget to make it happen? Specifically, how much would IBCLC Pathway 2 cost?

Costs can vary widely depending on which Pathway you take. This post focuses on the cost estimate just for Pathway 2. You can also find cost estimates for other Pathways here.

(Not sure which Pathway you would take? Read our overview of all the Pathways here. Still not clear, or not sure which pathway is right for you? Check out our free webinars on understanding the IBCLC pathways.) 

We have done our best to break down costs for different components below. This can be confusing unless you have a good understanding of what each component of the pathways is – so go back and read the overview post if you’re not clear. Just to recap, the components common to all Pathways are:

  1. Health Sciences Education: Either be an recognized health professional OR complete 14 prerequisite health science courses
  2. Lactation Education: Complete 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and 5 additional hours of communication skills specific to lactation
  3. Clinical Hours: Gain clinical experience in lactation care (number of hours varies based on the pathway)
  4. Exam: Take and pass the IBCLC exam (offered twice each year)

HEALTH SCIENCES EDUCATION:

*If you are an approved health care professional (or will be by the time you become an IBCLC), then you can skip this section (given that you’ve already completed your education – even though it probably wasn’t cheap! – we won’t factor it in.) Go ahead and skip to Clinical Hours.

If you are NOT an approved health care professional, you will need to complete the health sciences prerequisites, listed below and on the IBLCE site:

Credit Courses:

Must be taken for credit through an accredited educational institution:

  • 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

Start by determining how many of these you have already completed in your prior education – there is no expiration date for these courses, so even a course you completed many years ago can be eligible.

Now consider the courses you have remaining: the cost for these depends on where you complete your coursework. While the average cost per credit at a private university can be over $1000, at a community college average credit cost is around $140 (source), and many have courses available online. Keep in mind each course is usually 3 credits, so make sure you multiply cost per credit hour by number of credits you’ll need.

You can also find courses online through independent websites, which are often even lower-cost than community colleges. This Facebook group can be a helpful resource for finding online options for prerequisite education – frequently suggested include online resources like study.com and sophia.org (note that these courses must be taken for credit), and community colleges offering low-cost distance education.

COST: To calculate the cost of obtaining your prerequisites, determine: [Number of courses you need to complete] x [Cost per course] = Cost to complete prerequisites

Non-credit courses:

May be taken as continuing education (not for credit):

  • 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

These may be taken at local community colleges, and some are offered online as a package by several different educational providers. We strongly encourage you to complete your Basic Life Support (CPR) course in person. These courses vary in cost but are often $100-$200 total.

COST: $100-200

CLINICAL HOURS AND LACTATION-SPECIFIC EDUCATION:

There is a growing list of programs, mostly based at universities and colleges, which provide a formal educational pathway to IBCLC training: Pathway 2. These programs bundle your lactation-specific education with your clinical hours, and you pay for the entire program as a package.

The cost for these is very dependent on the program, and some may also depend on factors like whether you are in-state or out-of-state (for public universities). However, you should anticipate costs of $6,000-$15,000 for the total program package.

While this may be more expensive than other Pathways, the fact that these are offered in accredited university and college settings may make them more accessible if you are able to qualify to receive financial aid and/or student loans. You may also get some or all of the cost paid if your employer offers tuition assistance/reimbursement. Note that not all programs are alike; before enrolling in a Pathway 2 program, verify that you will are guaranteed clinical mentorship sites and clarify where, geographically, your mentorship site(s) will be located.

COST: Varies, but anticipate $6,000-$15,000

OTHER EDUCATIONAL COSTS:

Textbooks/study materials

Each program’s requirements will differ, but it’s safe to factor in some cost for textbooks and any other required course materials.

COST: $100-200

Study materials/textbooks:

The class materials you use in your lactation-specific education usually serve as good study guides. Many people will also do additional online or in-person exam prep courses; consider budgeting another $100-$200 in exam prep materials.

COST: $100-200

OTHER EXPENSES:

Not all pathways/sites will require these, but they are “hidden” costs that are worth thinking about if you are considering a specific site and/or program.

Student liability insurance: Many programs and mentors will require you to purchase liability insurance (similar to malpractice insurance).

COST: ~$30

Background checks and/or drug screening: If these are required by your clinical site(s) prior to beginning work, you may need to pay for them yourself; this will vary depending on program, so investigate beforehand.

COST: ~$40-$70, highly dependent on the sites/services used

Required vaccinations: If you are not up-to-date on all required vaccination(s) for your clinical site(s), you will need to get them before you begin clinical work. Costs will vary significantly based on your health care plan, but generally are low for routine vaccinations. Note that you will likely need to update your flu shot yearly.

COST: Varies.

Clinical uniform: Your clinical site(s) may require you to purchase and wear a particular jacket, scrubs, or other uniform.

COST: $50-$100+, highly dependent on the site’s requirements.

MISCELLANEOUS EXPENSES:

Child care: if you need child care for taking courses, studying, going to volunteer trainings, and/or to earn your hours, calculate and add this cost as well.

Transportation: Factor in mileage if you will be driving to/from your clinical site(s), and any other associated transportation costs. Also consider travel to conferences, trainings, and meetings.

Finally…

EXAM

Exam fees:

The cost to apply to take the exam in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe (as of 2020) is $660. Costs vary depending on region; check the IBLCE website for fees in your country/region.

COST: $660 (for those in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe; may be lower depending on your country/region)

TOTAL COSTS SUMMARY:

  • For those who are not recognized health professionals: Health Science courses for credit: Costs vary, and Health Science continuing education courses: $100-200
  • Clinical hours and lactation-specific education: Varies, but anticipate $6,000-$15,000
  • Other expenses (medical and background clearances, uniform): $0-$100+
  • Textbooks/study materials and exam prep materials and courses: $100-400
  • Exam fee: $660 (in the U.S./Canada as of 2020)
  • Don’t forget additional expenses such as child care and transportation, if they apply to you.

To get a cost estimate for yourself, add up the items on the list above that would apply to you – that’s a ballpark of how much IBCLC Pathway 2 costs might be for you.

Still have questions? Check out our webinars, explore more blog posts, and sign up for our newsletter to get more information and updates from MILK.

How much does IBCLC Pathway 1 cost?

If you’re drawn to becoming a lactation consultant, it’s likely not because you have dreams of becoming a millionaire (and don’t worry, there’s no risk of that!). Instead, it’s likely because you have a passion to help new families, you’re endlessly fascinated by the field of lactation, and you want to make this your work. But you also want to be realistic, especially given that it’s generally not a lucrative career. So it’s very fair that you’d wonder what your chosen pathway would cost. Is it affordable, and if so, how might you need to budget to make it happen? Specifically, how much would IBCLC Pathway 1 cost?

Costs can vary widely depending on which Pathway you take. This post focuses on the estimate just for IBCLC Pathway 1 cost. You can also find cost estimates for other Pathways here.

(Not sure which Pathway you would take? Read our overview of all the Pathways here. For more specifics, you can read our posts on Pathway 1 for peer supporters, and Pathway 1 for health care professionals. Still not clear, or not sure which pathway is right for you? Check out our free webinars on understanding the IBCLC pathways.) 

We have done our best to break down costs for different components below. This can be confusing unless you have a good understanding of what each component of the pathways is – so go back and read the overview post if you’re not clear. Just to recap, the components common to all Pathways are:

  1. Health Sciences Education: Either be an recognized health professional OR complete 14 prerequisite health science courses
  2. Lactation Education: Complete 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and 5 additional hours of communication skills specific to lactation
  3. Clinical Hours: Gain clinical experience in lactation care (number of hours varies based on the pathway)
  4. Exam: Take and pass the IBCLC exam (offered twice each year)

HEALTH SCIENCES EDUCATION:

*If you are an approved health care professional (or will be by the time you become an IBCLC), then you can skip this section (given that you’ve already completed your education – even though it probably wasn’t cheap! – we won’t factor it in.) Go ahead and skip to Clinical Hours.

If you are NOT an approved health care professional, you will need to complete the health sciences prerequisites, listed below and on the IBLCE site:

Credit Courses:

Must be taken for credit through an accredited educational institution:

  • 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

Start by determining how many of these you have already completed in your prior education – there is no expiration date for these courses, so even a course you completed many years ago can be eligible.

Now consider the courses you have remaining: the cost for these depends on where you complete your coursework. While the average cost per credit at a private university can be over $1000, at a community college average credit cost is around $140 (source), and many have courses available online. Keep in mind each course is usually 3 credits, so make sure you multiply cost per credit hour by number of credits you’ll need.

You can also find courses online through independent websites, which are often even lower-cost than community colleges. This Facebook group can be a helpful resource for finding online options for prerequisite education – frequently suggested include online resources like study.com and sophia.org (note that these courses must be taken for credit), and community colleges offering low-cost distance education.

COST: To calculate the cost of obtaining your prerequisites, determine: [Number of courses you need to complete] x [Cost per course] = Cost to complete prerequisites

Non-credit courses:

May be taken as continuing education (not for credit):

  • 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

These may be taken at local community colleges, and some are offered online as a package by several different educational providers. We strongly encourage you to complete your Basic Life Support (CPR) course in person. These courses vary in cost but are often $100-$200 total.

COST: $100-200

CLINICAL HOURS:

Pathway 1

Obtaining 1000+ hours of experience in lactation support:

If you already work in, or are able to find, a job where you are paid to provide lactation support in a supervised setting (e.g. WIC breastfeeding peer counselor, labor and delivery nurse, speech language pathologist working with infant feeding) you may actually earn money from this step!

If you are doing this as a volunteer, for example through a peer support organization such as La Leche League, Breastfeeding USA, or others, you will have some costs associated – often there’s a small application fee, yearly membership dues, and you may have the cost for training materials like books (or you may be able to check them out from the library). (You will also, of course, want to consider the time you’ll be spending as a volunteer to earn the 1000 hours – it’s time not spent on other paid work or with your family.) Cost varies by organization and depends on how long it takes to complete the hours, but would likely range from $100-400.

COST: $0-$400

LACTATION-SPECIFIC EDUCATION:

In Pathway 1, you must arrange for your own lactation-specific education. Some people complete this education requirement via taking continuing education courses or attending conferences intended for lactation consultants already in practice. They may attend regional or state conferences offered by lactation consultant associations, breastfeeding coalitions, hospitals, non-profits, and others. There are also online conferences, including GOLD Lactation and iLactation, which may make attendance more practical as they don’t have to travel. 

There are some drawbacks with this approach, though: Keep in mind that IBLCE encourages you to ensure your education covers all the topics on their Detailed Content Outline. Instead of a comprehensive foundation, conferences usually cover a “grab bag” of topics, some quite advanced, which are unlikely to cover everything you need to know. The focus of “continuing education” is exactly that: enhancing the knowledge of experienced practitioners, not on training a new generation of students. This can cause issues both with exam preparation and with your future practice as a lactation consultant: will you have the foundational skills and knowledge to serve your patients well? 

We encourage you to instead consider a comprehensive course that is intended for students who are training to be lactation consultants and preparing to take the IBCLC exam for the first time. There are many options, both in-person and online  – often at a cost that’s very comparable to trying to accumulate the hours via a patchwork of continuing education courses. NC State offers two online courses that give you all the hours you need, in a clear, sequential format, and taught by expert instructors; it’s the same course we teach in-person for our lactation trainees.

Note that starting with exam candidates in April 2021, you will be required to have 5 additional hours of education focused specifically on communication and counseling skills. We have these built into our program so that you can meet all of these requirements in one package.

COST: range from $800-1400. We are pleased to offer an affordable option at NC State – $800 for 110 hours of education, including 5 hours of communication/counseling skills.

OTHER EDUCATIONAL COSTS:

Textbooks/study materials

Each course’s requirements will differ, but it’s safe to factor in some cost for textbooks and any other required course materials.

COST: $100-200

Study materials/textbooks:

The class materials you use in your lactation-specific education usually serve as good study guides. Many people will also do additional online or in-person exam prep courses; consider budgeting another $100-$200 in exam prep materials.

COST: $100-200

MISCELLANEOUS EXPENSES:

Child care: if you need child care for taking courses, studying, going to volunteer trainings, and/or to earn your hours, calculate and add this cost as well.

Transportation: Factor in mileage if you will be driving to/from your clinical site(s), and any other associated transportation costs. Also consider travel to conferences, trainings, and meetings.

Finally…

EXAM

Exam fees:

The cost to apply to take the exam in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe (as of 2020) is $660. Costs vary depending on region; check the IBLCE website for fees in your country/region.

COST: $660 (for those in the U.S., Canada, and much of Europe; may be lower depending on your country/region)

TOTAL COSTS SUMMARY:

  • For those who are not recognized health professionals: Health Science courses for credit: Costs vary, and Health Science continuing education courses: $100-200
  • Training costs for those who are going through a peer counseling organization: $0-400
  • Lactation-specific education (90 hours + 5 hours of counseling skills): $800-$1400 (may be less if you choose not to take a comprehensive course).
  • Textbooks/study materials and exam prep materials and courses: $100-400
  • Exam fee: $660 (in the U.S./Canada as of 2020)
  • Don’t forget additional expenses such as child care and transportation, if they apply to you.

To get a cost estimate for yourself, add up the items on the list above that would apply to you – that’s a ballpark of how much IBCLC Pathway 1 costs might be for you.

Still have questions? Check out our webinars, explore more blog posts, and sign up for our newsletter to get more information and updates from MILK.

Can credentials like CLE, CBS, and CLC help me become an IBCLC?

Many people start their search for how to become an IBCLC and quickly become overwhelmed with all of the other options swimming around out there in an “alphabet soup” of credentials: CLE, CBS, CLC, CLEC, CBE… the list goes on! It can be confusing to figure out what they mean, how they relate the IBCLC credential, and whether a credential like CLE, CBS, or CLC will help you become an IBCLC. Some people even wonder if they HAVE to get one if they want to become an IBCLC! Our goal with this post is to explain what the credentials are and how they might factor into your pathway to IBCLC.

What do these credentials even mean?

All of those acronyms describe basic certifications that prepare you to offer uncomplicated lactation support and education (they do not prepare you for the full range of complex scenarios that you may encounter as a practicing IBCLC). To learn more about many of these certifications, the training associated with each, and how they compare to IBCLC training, check out this excellent resource from the US Lactation Consultant Association.

These credentials are often appealing to aspiring lactation consultants as the trainings are generally much more accessible than IBCLC training. They can be completed in a much shorter period of time (in-person courses are often 4-5 days long), are relatively inexpensive compared with full IBCLC training, and don’t require any clinical experience, but still confer the learner with a certificate/credential. They can also be a way to explore the field and gain some basic knowledge, and to get excited about providing lactation support.

These certifications are not regulated or licensed by any U.S. state, although in a few states where IBCLCs are licensed their scope of practice is more legally limited.

Do I need to complete one of these as part of my pathway to IBCLC? Can these trainings be a “stepping stone” to IBCLC? 

While some people see or use these credentials as a “stepping stone” to IBCLC, none of these certifications are affiliated with IBLCE in any way, and have no bearing on your ability to apply to take the IBCLC exam.

The trainings may also provide some roleplay or practice interactions, but they do not provide any of the required clinical hours to become an IBCLC. Whether earning one of these credentials will help you to get clinical hours will be very dependent on your situation, as we’ll discuss below. (Confused about the clinical hours, and/or the Pathways? Check out our overview post and our recorded webinar.)

What these trainings can do is help you complete some of your required education: they usually provide about half of the required 90 hours of lactation-specific education that are needed to become an IBCLC. Many people use these courses to partially fulfill their lactation-specific education hours. However, any lactation-specific training may be used towards those hours – no associated credential is required.

Can I find work with one of these credentials until I become an IBCLC?

This is a common but a complicated question! It is fairly unusual to see positions/jobs open for someone with only one of these basic credentials, as their scope is limited. You may sometimes see lactation-related positions listed, particularly for RNs, that prefer an IBCLC but will accept one of these credentials. (Sometimes they specify that the employee must become IBCLC-certified within a certain amount of time after being hired.)

Other types of positions where this may be a “bonus” credential are in settings where someone is working with expecting or new families and would like to get a little more training in basic lactation support (e.g. a social worker who does home visits for pregnant and parenting teens, etc). Again though, those programs are unlikely to be posting a position for this credential alone.

Some people with these certifications use them to set up a private practice – for example, offering home visits to new families. This requires you to be very cautious about your scope of practice, as it can be difficult to determine when a family schedules with you whether they are appropriate for your experience level. Families generally do not understand the difference in training between different types of lactation supporters and will often perceive you to be “the lactation consultant”; if you are not able to help them, they may give up on their feeding goals. Having strong boundaries around your scope and a trusted IBCLC to whom you can refer is key. And keep in mind, as we will review next, that an independent private practice will not allow you to earn clinical hours towards becoming an IBCLC.

If I get one of these credentials and begin offering lactation support, can I count those hours towards the clinical hours I need to become an IBCLC?

To count hours towards IBCLC, the lactation support you offer must fall under the guidelines for either Pathway 1 or Pathway 3.

In Pathway 1, you can provide lactation support and counseling in a setting where you are supervised by another professional (e.g. in a birth center supervised by midwives, in a hospital supervised by a nurse manager, or in a WIC clinic supervised by the agency breastfeeding coordinator). Note that this supervising professional does not need to be an IBCLC. (If you are a Recognized Health Professional with a license to practice independently (e.g. a physician), then supervision is not required.) If there is a lactation support setting that will only hire you or allow you to volunteer if you have a separate credential, then having a credential may be helpful. However, keep in mind that you may complete these Pathway 1 hours without any additional credential.

In Pathway 3, you provide lactation support and counseling under the mentorship of a practicing IBCLC. In addition to the other education requirements, you will need to log 500 hours of direct care for patients in this Pathway before you are eligible to apply to take the IBCLC exam. If there is an IBCLC who will only take you on as a mentee if you have a separate credential, then having a credential may be helpful. However, this is fairly rare and would be specific to your individual mentor.

You may not count hours if you are in a private practice where you are not supervised by any other professional or IBCLC, and simply seeing patients on your own (e.g. offering home visits to new families). So while opening a private practice with one of these credentials may be the most direct way to earn income, it will not be a way to earn hours towards IBCLC certification (unless you are able to find an IBCLC mentor so you may begin counting those hours under Pathway 3). The only exception is if you are a recognized health professional who can practice independently, as discussed above.

Does NC State’s course offer any kind of certification? What if I have already completed one of these trainings and am interested in taking your courses to complete my lactation education?

We provide a certificate of completion after you complete each of our two courses, and certainly our courses cover all the information that those types of courses cover – and more, since our course covers the full 90 hours of lactation education and 5 hours of communication skills required by IBLCE. But our focus is on helping students prepare for the IBCLC exam and profession. For that reason, and because a basic certification does not necessarily help students move down the pathway to IBCLC, at this time we don’t see a compelling reason to offer an additional certification or “letters” to put next to your name.

If you have already completed one of these certifications, you are welcome to enroll in our courses to complete your required lactation education and communication skills hours. If you are not sure which course to begin with, feel free to contact us to discuss your prior coursework and how our curriculum might complement your prior learning.

Understanding the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement

There are four components to becoming an IBCLC, no matter which Pathway you take, as set by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE):

  1. Health Sciences Education: Either be a recognized health professional OR complete 14 prerequisite health science courses
  2. Lactation Education: Complete 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and 5 additional hours of communication skills specific to lactation
  3. Clinical Hours: Gain clinical experience in lactation care (number of hours varies based on the pathway)
  4. Exam: Take and pass the IBCLC exam (offered twice each year)

We go over the basics of each component in our overview of all the Pathways post (as well as our individual posts on each Pathway), but still get frequent questions the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement. So we’ve created this separate post to go more in-depth! Below, we review the fundamentals of the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement and answer some common questions:

How to fulfill the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement:

As we noted above, there are two ways to satisfy the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement. One is by being a Recognized Health Professional. The list of health professionals currently recognized by IBLCE as satisfying the requirements is:

  • Dentist   
  • Dietician
  • Midwife   
  • Nurse  
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • Physical Therapist or Physiotherapist
  • Physician or Medical Doctor
  • Speech Pathologist or Therapist

In these professions, you are assumed to have already completed the relevant coursework. If you are NOT a professional on the list above, you must show that you have completed a list of 14 pre-requisite courses. The courses are split into two different categories – courses that must be taken for credit, and courses that can be taken as continuing education only. First, we’re going to look at the credit courses – these tend to generate the most questions.

List of courses that must be taken for credit:

  • 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

There are four main things to understand about these courses:

1 – They’re good forever

There is no expiration date on these courses, so if you so if you took some of these courses at the college level at any point in time – even ten or twenty years ago – and can provide transcripts, you can count them. So pull out those old transcripts!

2 – You may have taken a course already – even if it doesn’t match the titles above

To understand the Health Sciences course requirements, there is no replacement for a careful, thorough reading of IBLCE’s Health Science’s Education Guide. For each course, they provide a description and list of multiple types of courses that would meet that requirement. For example, you may not have taken a course titled “Introduction to Clinical Research”. But courses like Introductory Statistics, Health Sciences Research Methods, or Statistics for Health Professionals could all potentially meet the requirements as well – reading over the course descriptions of these examples will help you determine whether courses you have already taken will meet the requirement.

3 – They must be taken for academic credit, but where you find them is flexible

The above courses must be taken for academic credit – so not a continuing education course, or a course that will just provide you with something like a certificate of completion. You can do that by taking them through your local university or community college. Many people take them on websites like study.com or sophia.org, which can be the most affordable option, and which you can do entirely online and self-paced. Again, a thorough reading of the IBLCE Health Sciences Education Guide will help with ensuring courses you take online will be accepted. The guide specifies “Courses recognized by ACE Credit or equivalent college credit equivalency services will be accepted as being from an accredited institution” – so you want to make sure that anywhere you take the courses will provide you with ACE Credit or an equivalent.

4 – One course can meet multiple requirements

Some of the prerequisites overlap enough that a single course may meet multiple requirements. The Health Sciences guide notes that a course entitled Human Biology that covers “the principles of biology with particular reference to the human body (anatomy and physiology)” meets the biology, anatomy and physiology requirements. That’s three prereqs covered, if you’re taking the right course! Similarly a course in Developmental Psychology that “examines the changes in personality, cognitive ability and behaviour throughout the lifespan” meets both the infant and child growth and development and the psychology requirements. Have we convinced you yet to read the Health Sciences Guide carefully and thoroughly?

List of courses that may be taken as continuing education:

The second category of courses is more straightforward (and now you already know that you can learn a lot about them from – where else – the IBLCE Health Sciences Guide):

  • Basic Life Support (e.g. CPR)
  • Medical Documentation
  • Medical Terminology
  • Occupational Safety and Security for Health Professionals
  • Professional Ethics for Health Professionals
  • Universal Safety Precautions and Infection Control

Five out of the six courses are often offered by lactation education websites as a low-cost “bundle”, so you can take them easily together. Basic Life Support – CPR and especially infant CPR – is often offered through your local health department, hospital, fire station, or other resources. We do encourage you to take it in person if possible, but given COVID-19 precautions you may need to take it online for now.

What to do next

The IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement is often confusing when you first look at it. With the information above, you should now have a much better handle on which courses are required and how you can fulfill the requirements.

So to figure out what you need to do next, go through the following steps:

  1. Pull up your own academic transcripts so you can remember your full history.
  2. With the transcripts next to you, carefully go through IBLCE’s guidance and determine whether courses that you’ve already taken satisfy their prerequisites.
  3. Make a list of the prerequisites you still need to take. Could you combine any of them to be satisfied by taking a single course?
  4. Plan your courses – sign up at a local community college or for online education that offers ACE credit (or equivalent).
  5. Complete your coursework and celebrate – this is a huge step on your Pathway to IBCLC!

Frequently Asked Questions about the IBCLC Health Sciences Education Requirement:

When should I take the courses? Do I have to take them before I complete my lactation-specific education and/or clinical hours?

IBLCE does not require you to take the courses in any specific order or at any specific point in your training. Remember, they never expire – unlike your lactation-education specific education and clinic hours, which must be completed in the five years prior to applying for the exam. You may complete them at any time in your lactation training. However, many Pathway 2 programs, and many Pathway 3 mentors, will require you to have taken some or all of your health science prerequisites before beginning. Consider your Pathway plans in deciding when to complete the courses.

Does NC State’s MILK program offer these courses online as part of your lactation education? Do I have to complete the prerequisites before I enroll in your program?

Our current program at MILK focuses on IBLCE’s required lactation-specific education, including communication skills, required by IBLCE – not on the health sciences prerequisites. (As a large university, all the prerequisite courses can of course be completed at NC State – this likely makes the most sense if you are a currently enrolled NC State student.) We do not require you to have completed the health sciences prerequisites before enrolling in MILK’s online lactation-specific education program.

I still don’t understand the Pathways and how this piece fits in with everything else! Can you help?

Yes! Join one of our free, live monthly webinars – check out our Facebook events page and follow us on Facebook for announcements of upcoming dates. One of our expert instructors reviews the pathways in detail, including options for different lactation consultant training programs, and answers questions from attendees. Or watch our recorded webinar right now!

How do I become an IBCLC if I’m already a physician or advanced practice nurse?

It’s a question we see often: “I’m a physician/NP/CNM and would like to become an IBCLC. Where do I start?”

As IBCLCs, we understand the experience of getting fired up to support families who need lactation support. Sometimes it takes just a single encounter with the field. Sometimes it’s a passion that develops over years. But either way, if you landed here because you’re excited about becoming a lactation consultant – we get it! And we get how confusing the route to becoming an IBCLC can feel.

Many physicians and mid-level providers become interested in becoming IBCLCs, either through their professional experience working with families, personal experiences with their own children, or both! Based on your professional credentials, IBLCE considers you a “recognized health care professional”, which affects a few things about the options available to you on your pathway to IBCLC. So we’ve put together this guide to IBCLC especially for you! Let’s get started:

Understanding the IBCLC Pathways

Many health care professions usually have a single clear pathway: take required prerequisite courses, enroll in an accredited academic program, graduate, and pass an exam.

Graphic illustrating typical healthcare education pathway. Shows first taking prerequisites, then enrolling in a formal academic program including classes and clinicals. Next graduation and taking a licensing exam or board certification. Finally, it shows beginning professional practice.

So you likely completed prerequisites, enrolled in a degree program, completed your classes and clinical rotations, and graduated. You then studied and took your boards, and when you had passed, you were cleared to begin practice.

However, lactation consultants can choose from three possible pathways – and Pathway 1 is actually split into two different categories!

Feeling overwhelmed? We’re here to help break it down, and think about which Pathways will make the most sense for you as a physician, NP, or CNM.

Please note that your final word should always be the website of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). They set the standards and policies for IBCLC training, examination, and certification. Here is a flowsheet from IBLCE to help people navigate through the Pathways to certification.

So how to navigate the pathways to become an IBCLC given your background?

Common components of ALL Pathways

In each IBCLC Pathway, you must complete the following 4 components:

  1. Health Sciences Education: Either be an recognized health professional OR complete 14 prerequisite health science courses
  2. Lactation Education: Complete 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and 5 additional hours of communication skills specific to lactation
  3. Clinical Hours: Gain clinical experience in lactation care (number of hours varies based on the pathway)
  4. Exam: Take and pass the IBCLC exam (offered twice each year)

For 1, Health Sciences Education, you are considered to have fulfilled that requirement with your prior education. Your current professional credentials will satisfy that requirement per IBLCE.

Given that, you just have to figure out how and where you will complete your lactation education and clinical hours. Below, we’ll go through all the Pathways and how they might look for you:

Pathway 1 for health care professionals

In Pathway 1, just like all the other Pathways, you must complete your Lactation Education (see above) – our online course is an excellent fit for those completing Pathway 1. You then need to complete your clinical hours, which because you are a recognized health care professional, you may do as part of your work.

How many hours you need: For clinical hours, you must obtain at least 1000 hours of lactation-specific clinical experience in a supervised role. These hours must take place in the 5 years before you apply to take the exam.

Where you can earn your hours: You may already be working in a position where you can earn your hours. If you work in obstetric, family practice, or pediatric settings, you may regularly be providing hands-on and/or phone or virtual support to families. For example, a pediatrician or pediatric nurse practitioner may spend time at most newborn visits counseling families about feeding and offering support. A nurse-midwife may be providing education at prenatal visits, and then seeing patients for support postpartum.

A special consideration for providers is whether your current role will allow you to earn 1000 hours in 5 years. Providers have many demands on the limited time they are allotted for patient care, and lactation support is often very time-consuming. If your current role does not include lactation support, or does not include enough to get 1000 hours in 5 years, you may consider whether you can change jobs or alter your current role to provide more opportunities for working with families.

Note that unlike Pathway 3, in this Pathway your hours do not need to be mentored/supervised by a practicing IBCLC. Additionally, as your current license enables you to practice independently (or fairly independently, depending on the state in which you practice as an NP/CNM), you do not require supervision of any kind when earning your hours.

Keep in mind that simply providing lactation care as part of your job is adequate to qualify to sit the exam, but is often not adequate to feel prepared to practice independently. Think back to the training for your current role as a physician, NP, or CNM. How much did you learn from the mentorship of your instructors, clinical mentors, and early co-workers that informs how you practice today? While it is possible to become an IBCLC without ever even meeting another IBCLC, we advise against it! Reach out to local IBCLCs and ask to shadow them, even if just for a few days. As you’ve probably told your own students, “you don’t know what you don’t know. Shadowing a practicing IBCLC will help you identify areas for growth in your lactation consultant education, so that you can best serve your patients and help them achieve their feeding goals.

How you count your hours: Very few physicians, NPs, or CNMs who are not already IBCLCs are spending 100% of their time on lactation-related care! But if lactation care is part of your current role, IBLCE allows you to provide a good faith estimate of the amount of time you spend providing lactation care. They suggest keeping a weekly time log for several weeks. This will help you determine how much of your time you spend on average in lactation-related care. For example, a nurse-midwife who rounds on patients postpartum may find about 1 hour of every 12 hour shift is spent on lactation support. You may then use this calculator from IBLCE (downloads an Excel spreadsheet) to calculate your hours and determine how long it will take you to reach 1000. Make sure you can reach 1000 hours in 5 years’ time! (A job where you provide 1 hour of lactation support a week won’t be enough.)

Click here to learn even more about Pathway 1 for recognized health professionals.

Advantages with this Pathway:

  • You can complete your hours while you are working, as part of the job you already do.
  • You may be able to complete your hours fairly quickly if you are providing a lot of lactation support.

Why this Pathway might not be for you:

  • If your current job does not provide enough lactation hours, or you’ll take longer than you’d like to earn them, and you can’t find a way to increase that amount.
  • If you would prefer to learn from an IBCLC mentor (Pathways 2 or 3) vs. complete the clinical hours on your own (Pathway 1).

Pathway 1 for peer supporters

Pathway 1 for peer supporters is very similar to Pathway 1 for health care professionals. Again you must complete your Lactation Education (see above). But instead of earning your hours through your work, you earn them as a volunteer counselor for an IBLCE-recognized peer counseling organization.

How many hours you need: You must obtain at least 1000 hours of lactation-specific clinical experience as a peer counselor. These hours must take place in the 5 years before you apply to take the exam.

Where you can earn your hours: A full list of recognized organizations is here. Examples include, but are not limited to, La Leche League Leader, Breastfeeding USA counselor, or Dr Milk peer supporter.

How you count your hours: Currently, you are able to count these hours as a “flat rate”: 250 hours per year if you provide only telephone/online counseling, or 500 hours per year if you provide face-to-face support. (This will change on Jan 1st, 2022; from that point forward, you will be required to count your time on an hour-by-hour basis. More information from IBLCE here.) All of your hours must be completed in the 5 years immediately prior to the date you apply to take the exam.

Click here to learn even more about Pathway 1 for peer supporters 

Advantages with this Pathway:

  • Volunteer training is generally very low-cost or free.
  • You can earn your hours on your own time.
  • This role may open up opportunities for you to learn and interact with others in your peer support organization.
  • You will likely get to work with families with babies/children with a wide range of ages.

Why this Pathway might not be for you:

  • If you have never breastfed/chestfed/pumped for your own children, many organizations will not work with you as a peer counselor.
  • You may find the volunteer time commitment challenging.
  • And again, if you would prefer to learn from an IBCLC mentor, vs. complete the clinical hours on your own, you are better off doing Pathway 2 or Pathway 3.

Pathway 2

Pathway 2 programs are comprehensive academic programs – much more like the other formal health professions education we discussed at the beginning. Your Lactation Education (see above) and Clinical Hours (see above) should be provided as a package from your Pathway 2 program.

Some Pathway 2 programs are available via distance education; in others, you are required to be on-campus for education. You will also obtain at least 300 hours of lactation-specific clinical experience through mentorship with one or more practicing IBCLCs. Always verify before enrolling where and how the program will find and contract clinical mentors/sites for you. Please ensure that you will be able to obtain the clinical hours necessary in order to complete the program.

At NCSU, we are not a Pathway 2 program currently; you may find a list of Pathway 2 programs here

After you complete all of your requirements, you will be eligible to apply to take the IBCLC exam.

Advantages with Pathway 2:

  • This Pathway is often the fastest route to completion: many programs move students from start to finish in about a year.
  • It can be very helpful to have your program arrange all of your education and clinicals.
  • You receive direct mentorship from experienced IBCLCs, vs. trying to “figure it out as you go” in Pathway 1.

Why this Pathway might not be for you:

  • You may have difficulty finding a program that is available in your area and/or offers clinical rotations that work with your location and schedule.
  • Pathway 2 programs tend to be the most expensive route to IBCLC certification, which can present a financial barrier (some programs offer scholarships and/or financial aid, and your current employer may offer tuition assistance).

Pathway 3

In Pathway 3, just like all the other Pathways, you must complete your Lactation Education (see above) – our online course is an excellent fit for those completing Pathway 3. For clinical hours, you obtain hours through mentorship with one or more practicing IBCLCs.

How many hours you need: You must obtain at least 500 hours of mentored lactation clinical hours with an IBCLC mentor. These hours must take place in the 5 years before you apply to take the exam.

Where you can earn your hours: You may earn hours with any currently certified IBCLC. You may receive your training in any clinical setting (e.g. an IBCLC who solely runs a milk bank or only does research would not be a potential mentor). This may include hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practice, WIC nutrition programs, facilitation of support groups, and more. If you work alongside IBCLCs in your current setting, you may be able to arrange for mentorship with them.

How you count your hours: There are three phases to the clinical hours. In Phase 1, the mentee is on “observation-only” mode. In Phase 1 you become familiar with clinical IBCLC practice (but this does not count towards the 500 hours). You then become increasingly involved, hands-on, with clinical care (Phases 2 and 3). The mentee must accumulate 500 hours of practice time in Phase 2 and/or 3. All of your hours must be completed in the 5 years immediately prior to the date you apply to take the exam.

We have more details on Pathway 3 in this post. If you are planning to do Pathway 3, we advise you to wait to enroll in our course or any lactation education course until you feel confident you can find, or have found, mentorship. Please be sure you can complete your clinical hours as planned.

Advantages with Pathway 3:

  • Like Pathway 2, you receive direct mentorship from experienced IBCLCs, vs. trying to “figure it out as you go” in Pathway 1. Just like when you began your work in your current profession, you are able to learn from experienced clinicians.
  • Depending on how busy your mentor(s) is/are, you may be able to earn your hours fairly quickly.

Why this Pathway might not be for you:

  • In some areas, it can be difficult to find a Pathway 3 mentor.
  • Many mentors charge a fee for mentorship, which can be a financial barrier.
  • It may be difficult to arrange the schedule for mentored hours around your own, which may make earning hours go more slowly.

Please note that we offer Pathway 3 mentorship opportunities through NCSU, but students applying to that program must complete the on-campus, classroom-based courses first; those completing the online-only courses are not eligible to apply to our mentorship program at this time. For more information about our on-campus Pathway 3 program, contact us.

Taking the exam

Finally, with all the Pathways, you must take and pass the IBCLC exam.

The exam is offered in April and October of each year. You must apply to take the exam 6-8 months in advance of the exam date; the IBLCE website has upcoming deadlines. All of your education and clinical hours must be complete before you apply to sit the exam.

Once you’ve passed, congratulations! Welcome to the community of IBCLCs worldwide. There’s a lot to do, and we can’t wait for you to get started!

Have more questions?

Still not sure which IBCLC Pathway is right for you as a physician, NP, or CNM?

Still not sure how to become an IBCLC? Join check out our free live and recorded webinars on Pathways to IBCLC.

Ready to get started? Take a look at our 90-hour lactation education course – low-cost and self-paced, with personal attention from our expert instructors.

The world needs more IBCLCs, and we’re excited to help you along your way! 

What is a typical lactation consultant salary (IBCLC)?

As you research how to become a lactation consultant, you may also be looking into the financial side of things. We’ve discussed the typical costs of training and certifying as a lactation consultant, but what about once you actually certify and begin working? While you can google “lactation consultant salary”, the estimates provided by websites like Glassdoor or Indeed are often based off of a small number of people reporting salaries and/or salary ranges pulled from posted jobs that may mention lactation but not specifically be for an IBCLC. In addition, they are largely based on lactation consultant salaries for hospital-based IBCLCs, vary quite widely, and are not very specific to location – which can make a big difference. So let’s talk about how you might go about determining what you might earn as a lactation consultant.

The primary question you will need to answer as you go about investigating your lactation consultant salary potential is where you plan or hope to work: hospital, private practice, or other outpatient.

Lactation consultant salary: Hospital settings

If you would like to work in a hospital but don’t have a nursing background, you’ll want to read our post on how to research job opportunities for a non-RN in your area.

If you discover that there are good opportunities for you as hospital-based IBCLC, then you be able to get a much more solid estimate of salary potential. Part of your research can also be what IBCLC positions at those hospitals tend to pay. If you cannot find information for IBCLC-specific position pay, know that often pay will be similar to that of a staff nurse. However, a 2019 survey by the United States Lactation Consultant Association indicates that on average, non-RN IBCLCs employed in hospitals tend to make somewhat less than RN IBCLCs. (That same USLCA survey also offers some data on state-level hourly pay – but use caution with those numbers as the number of overall respondents is fairly small and this was a voluntary response survey.)

Hospital positions may be full-time or part-time, so another consideration is what type of positions the hospitals in your area tend to have available. A small hospital may not employ any full-time IBCLCs whereas a large hospital may employ multiple. Make this part of your research as well – would the salaries you’re looking at be full-time or part-time?

Lactation consultant salary: private practice

Many IBCLCs go into private practice, owning their own business (or sometimes collaborating with other local IBCLCs for a shared practice). As any business owner can tell you, income can be much more variable when you are out on your own. And it often takes a while to turn a profit after your initial investment in set-up.

See if other local private practice IBCLCs in the area are willing to share information about how busy they are, their rates, and their expenses. If they aren’t, or if there are no IBCLCs in private practice right now, you will need to do the math yourself. You need to calculate what you might reasonably be able to charge in your area and how many patients you might see on a weekly and monthly basis. Also think about additional services you may be able to offer, like prenatal classes. 

You then need to consider what your business costs will be. You can often start with a “bare bones” investment, and scale up your spending as your income increases. But there are unavoidable start-up costs including liability insurance, equipment/supplies including a high-quality feeding scale, a charting system, and often registering and maintaining an LLC. 

Other common costs include website design and hosting, marketing, continuing education, and secure e-mail and e-fax services. Paying for childcare while you are making visits may also be a factor. 

Once you have an idea of what income and expenses would be, you can estimate your anticipated take-home pay. (Don’t forget to estimate taxes as well, as you must pay those on your own as a self-employed person – they will not be automatically deducted the way they are via a regular employer.)

Again, the USLCA survey offers some data on self-reported private-practice hourly pay, but use even more caution with those numbers. The number of overall respondents is quite small, this was a voluntary response survey, and “hourly” is a difficult estimate in a private practice setting where an individual might work only 10-15 hours a week (note that over a third of respondents had 5 or fewer appointments per week).

Overall, in private practice it is important to be prepared to spend at least some period of time at the beginning of your practice working very part-time while you build a reputation and clientele. How busy you eventually become will depend greatly on your practice area and potential client base; some private practice IBCLCs are eventually able to work the equivalent of full-time. Others always see a limited number of patients per week. Consider whether this is a sustainable financial model, depending on your other sources of income.

Lactation consultant salary: other outpatient practice

IBCLCs work in all types of outpatient settings, including:

  • pediatric, OB-GYN, midwifery, and family practice offices
  • working with dentists or other frenotomy providers
  • freestanding birth centers
  • WIC clinics
  • pregnancy care centers
  • home visiting program for new parents
  • and more!

In the outpatient world, a lactation consultant salary will vary depending on setting and, again, whether you work full-time or part-time. If you are interested in working in these settings, take a look at what is an option in your area. For a rough estimate, often hourly rates might be similar to what the office would pay nursing or other clinical staff, but it will of course vary by office. In some settings it may be a percentage share of revenue brought in via billing your services to insurance (so the busier you are, the more revenue you generate for yourself and for the practice). You will need to do more research into potential practice settings if you are seriously considering them as a future place of employment.

Closing thoughts

As you can see, it isn’t necessarily simple to estimate what a lactation consultant salary might be! We hope this post has helped you understand more about why not to depend too much on Google “guesstimates”, and how to do your own research to get more accurate estimates for your specific area and desired practice setting. As you do this research, keep in mind what your needs are. A private practice seeing a couple patients per week at times you have childcare, bringing in a small but steady income, might be perfect for your life right now. On the other hand, maybe you need to make a much higher income and need the security of a full-time job. In that case, you will want to make sure the jobs available to you will meet your minimum needs.

If you know enough about the lactation opportunities in your area to decide that you’re ready to start your IBCLC training, check out our free live and recorded webinars on Pathways to IBCLC and our 90-hour lactation education course – low-cost and self-paced with personal attention from instructors. The world needs more IBCLCs, and we’re excited to help you along your way! 

How to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC): Pathway 1 for Peer Supporters

This is a post on Pathway 1 for Peer Supporters. Not sure whether that’s the right pathway for you? Check out the overview of all the pathways to see what fits your situation best.

Are you interested in becoming a lactation consultant, but confused on where to start? Many healthcare professions have a single clear pathway: take required prerequisite courses, enroll an accredited academic program, successfully complete their requirements (including clinical rotations and classes), graduate, and pass an exam.

As a healthcare professional, that’s probably pretty close to the route you followed. However, there are relatively few formal lactation consultant training programs; in fact, lactation consultants can choose from three possible pathways – and Pathway 1, which many health professionals pursue, can be especially confusing!

Feeling overwhelmed? Know that there are tens of thousands of IBCLCs in the world, who have each figured it out – you can, too, and we’re here to help!

Because NC State offers courses that are well-suited for those pursuing Pathway 1, we get a number of questions from people confused about whether they are able to pursue this pathway. So we’re breaking it down in this post, step-by-step.

This post is for peer supporters. The other category in Pathway 1 is for members of recognized health care professions. If you fit that description or want to learn more, click here for a post all about Pathway 1 for health care professionals.

For peer supporters, Pathway 1 has the following steps:

  • Obtain 1000 hours of “lactation specific clinical practice”
  • Complete education in the 14 Health Science subjects OR be an approved health care professional
  • Obtain 90 hours of lactation specific education
  • Obtain 5 hours of communication skills education (starting April 2021)
  • Take and pass the IBCLC exam

Let’s go through step-by-step! We have not numbered them as you do need to do them in any specific order, but note that your clinical practice hours and lactation specific education must be completed in the 5 years immediately prior to the date you apply to take the exam.

Obtain 1000 hours of “lactation specific clinical practice”

If you are doing Pathway 1 as a peer counselor, you must be part of an organization recognized by IBLCE. A full list of recognized organizations is here.

Examples include, but are not limited to, La Leche League Leader, Breastfeeding USA counselor, or Mom2Mom Global peer supporter.

You may also work (paid or unpaid) providing supervised lactation support in the following settings: a hospital, birth center, community clinic, lactation care clinic/practice, or primary care practitioner’s practice/office. Examples include a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor who is supervised by an IBCLC, or a volunteer counselor who provides breastfeeding support in a birth center where they are supervised by midwives.

Currently, you are able to count these hours as a “flat rate”: 250 hours per year if you provide only telephone/online counseling, or 500 hours per year if you provide face-to-face support. (This will change on Jan 1st, 2022; from that point forward, you will be required to count your time on an hour-by-hour basis. More information from IBLCE here.)

All of your hours must be completed in the 5 years immediately prior to the date you apply to take the exam.

Complete education in the 14 Health Science subjects

If you are an approved health care professional (or will be by the time you become an IBCLC), you do not need to complete the requirements below (and you may also have the option to complete your training via Pathway 1 for health care professionals).

If you are not an approved health care professional, you must demonstrate that you have completed the courses below. These are courses which you may have taken as part of a degree program or individually. Many people take these online or through their local community college. (Note these cannot be non-credit courses; you must be earning academic credit for them to be accepted by IBLCE.) More details from IBLCE are available here.

Required college-level courses (8 total):

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

Required continuing education courses (6 total):

  • 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

Obtain at least 90 hours of lactation-specific education

Either before or while you are accumulating your clinical hours, you should work on your lactation education. You may obtain these from in-person or online trainings or conferences that cover the core competencies from IBLCE. When evaluating these courses, consider whether they will give you an integrated overview of the knowledge you will need for clinical practice, and to prepare to sit the exam. NC State offers two online courses that give you all the hours you need, in a clear, sequential format, and taught by expert instructors; it’s the same course we teach in person for our lactation trainees.

Your 90 hours must be completed within the 5 years immediately prior to the date you apply to take the exam.

Obtain 5 hours of communication skills education (starting April 2021)

IBLCE is also adding a requirement for at least 5 hours of education in communication skills for those applying to sit the exam in April 2021 or later. While the exact nature of how those hours need to be documented is still unclear, NC State courses will cover those communication skills as part of our online courses.

Take and pass the IBCLC exam

The exam is offered in April and October of each year. You must apply to sit for the exam 6-8 months in advance of the exam date; the IBLCE website has upcoming deadlines. All of your education and clinical hours must be complete before you apply to sit the exam.

Once you’ve passed, congratulations! Welcome to the community of IBCLCs worldwide. There’s a lot to do, and we can’t wait for you to get started!

Have more questions? Still not sure which Pathway is right for you?

Join one of our free, live monthly webinars! Check out our Facebook events page and follow us on Facebook for announcements of upcoming dates. One of our expert instructors reviews the pathways in detail, including options for different lactation consultant training programs, and answers questions from attendees. Or watch our recorded webinar right now!

How to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC): Pathway 1 for Health Care Professionals

This is a post on Pathway 1 for Health Care Professionals. If you don’t fit that description, check out this post on Pathway 1 for Peer Supporters or this post for an overview of all the pathways!

Are you interested in becoming a lactation consultant, but confused on where to start? Many health care professions have a single clear pathway: take required prerequisite courses, enroll an accredited academic program, successfully complete their requirements (including clinical rotations and classes), graduate, and pass an exam.

Graphic illustrating typical pathway

As a health care professional, that’s probably pretty close to the route you followed. However, for lactation consultant education you can choose from three possible pathways – and Pathway 1, which many health professionals pursue, can be especially confusing!

Feeling overwhelmed? Know that there are tens of thousands of IBCLCs in the world, who have each figured it out – you can, too, and we’re here to help!

Because NC State offers courses that are well-suited for those pursuing Pathway 1, we get a number of questions from people confused about whether they are able to pursue this pathway for their lactation consultant education. So we’re breaking it down in this post, step-by-step.

First, assess whether you are one of the health professionals in the list of recognized professions by IBLCE. These recognized professions include:

  • Dentist
  • Dietitian
  • Midwife
  • Nurse
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • Physical Therapist or Physiotherapist
  • Physician or Medical Doctor
  • Speech Pathologist or Therapist

Not in one of these professions? The other category in Pathway 1 is for peer counselors providing support, in either a paid or unpaid capacity. If you would like to learn more about that, check out our post about Pathway 1 for peer counselors, or our post on understanding all the pathways, for people of any professional background.

If you are in one of those professions, Pathway 1 has the following steps:

  • Obtain 1000 hours of “lactation specific clinical practice”.
  • Obtain 90 hours of lactation specific education
  • Obtain 5 hours of communication skills education (starting April 2021)
  • Take and pass the IBCLC exam

Let’s go through step-by-step! We have not numbered them as you do need to do them in any specific order, but note that your clinical practice hours and lactation specific education must be completed in the 5 years immediately prior to the date you apply to take the exam.

Obtain 1000 hours of “lactation specific clinical practice”

If your current role includes lactation support:

Very few professionals who are not already IBCLCs are spending 100% of their time on lactation-related care! If this is part of your current role, IBLCE allows you to provide a good faith estimate of the amount of time you spend providing lactation care. Keeping a weekly time log for several weeks, as they suggest, will help you determine how much of your time you spend on average in lactation-related care. For example, a nurse on a labor and delivery unit may find about 1 hour of every 12 hour shift is spent on lactation support. You may then use this calculator from IBLCE (downloads an Excel spreadsheet) to calculate your hours and determine how long it will take you to reach 1000.

Keep in mind that simply providing lactation care as part of your job is adequate to qualify to sit the exam, but is often not adequate to feel prepared to practice independently. Think back to the training for your current role. How much did you learn from the mentorship of your instructors, clinical mentors, and early co-workers that informs how you practice today? While it is possible to become an IBCLC without ever even meeting another IBCLC, we advise against it! Reach out to local IBCLCs and ask to shadow them, even if just for a few days. As you’ve probably told your own students, “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and shadowing a practicing IBCLC will help you identify areas for growth in your lactation consultant education.

If your current role does not include lactation support, or does not include enough to get 1000 hours in 5 years:

Change your job: You may have a passion for lactation support, yet not have it in your current job description. How can you obtain your hours? Some may be able to shift into a role that will help them obtain their hours. For example, an SLP or OT currently working with adult inpatients might seek a transfer to a neonatal intensive care unit, a registered dietitian could apply for positions in WIC, or a nurse in a school setting might look for work in a pediatric office instead.

Obtain hours via a peer support role: If changing jobs is not possible, or if your specific profession makes it difficult to get hours in your job, you will have to obtain your hours outside of your job setting.  Many people do this by becoming a peer counselor for a recognized support organization – for example, physicians may become counselors for Dr. MILK, an organization that focuses on supporting physician parents. You may still use your professional background in place of the 14 required health science pre-requisites, but obtain your hours via peer support instead. The post on Pathway 1 for peer supporters describes in more detail how those hours are calculated currently, and how calculations will change in the future. It also links to the list of recognized peer support organizations.

Obtain hours via direct mentoring, possibly via Pathway 3: You may also seek mentoring from a local IBCLC. Hospital IBCLCs may offer mentorship, especially if you already work in the same hospital system. Local private practice or office-based IBCLCs are also potential mentors. Keep in mind that mentorship is a significant investment of time and energy for the IBCLC, so most will charge a fee for this service. If you will be obtaining more than half your hours this way, you will likely be better off switching to Pathway 3, as it requires a total of only 500 hours (since they are directly mentored). Again, you can still use your professional background in place of the pre-requisites, but will need to complete all the other requirements for Pathway 3. Want to learn more about Pathway 3, or confused about all the Pathways? Read through the overview of all the Pathways here, and an explanation of Pathway 3 here.

Enroll in a Pathway 2 program: Pathway 2 programs provide coursework and clinical mentoring all in one package (or should – always verify before enrolling that they will arrange clinical mentorship for you, and not expect you to arrange it yourself). Read more about Pathway 2 in our overview of all the Pathways.

Obtain at least 90 hours of lactation-specific education

Either before or while you are accumulating your clinical hours, you should work on your lactation specific education. You may obtain these from in-person or online trainings or conferences that cover the core competencies from IBLCE. When evaluating these courses, consider whether they will give you an integrated overview of the knowledge you will need for clinical practice, and to prepare to sit the exam. NC State offers two online courses that give you all the hours you need, in a clear, sequential format, and taught by expert instructors; it’s the same course we teach in person for our lactation trainees.

Obtain 5 hours of communication skills education (starting April 2021)

IBLCE is also adding a requirement for at least 5 hours of education in communication skills for those applying to sit the exam in April 2021 or later. While the exact nature of how those hours need to be documented is still unclear, NC State courses will cover those communication skills as part of our online courses.

Take and pass the IBCLC exam

The exam is offered in April and October of each year. You must apply to sit the exam 6-8 months in advance of the exam date; the IBLCE website lists upcoming deadlines. All of your education and clinical hours must be complete before you apply to sit the exam.

The clinical hours and lactation specific education must be complete in the 5 years immediately prior to the date you register to take the exam.

Once you’ve passed, congratulations! Welcome to the community of IBCLCs worldwide. There’s a lot to do, and we can’t wait for you to get started!

Have more questions? Still not sure which Pathway is right for you?

Join one of our free, live monthly webinars! Check out our Facebook events page and follow us on Facebook for announcements of upcoming dates. One of our expert instructors reviews the pathways in detail and answers questions from attendees. Or watch our prerecorded webinar right now!

Can I find a job as a lactation consultant if I’m not a nurse?

“Can I find a job as a lactation consultant if I’m not a nurse?”

This is one of the most commonly asked questions from aspiring IBCLCs. You may have gone online searching for information about lactation consultant jobs, and seen page after page of job listings in hospitals saying “RN required”. This naturally leads to the question of whether YOU can ever find employment as a lactation consultant, or whether you’d have to go to nursing school first.

So, can you find a job as a lactation consultant if you’re not a nurse? The answer is very often YES! At the end of this post, we have stories from non-RN lactation consultants who have built very successful professional careers! However, how it might look depends on your location, goals, and circumstances.

As you’ve probably already realized, lactation consultant training entails a serious commitment of time and money.

Before committing, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Ask yourself: Where do you WANT to work? Lactation consultants work in many settings: hospitals, medical offices or community clinics, WIC (a supplemental nutrition program for new families), and/or private practice. In each setting you will work with different populations, in different ways, at different stages. For example, in the hospital you will be working with mostly brand-new babies and families. In an office providing pediatric care, you will be seeing them as they get older and their needs change. Which settings speak most to you?

2. Ask yourself: Where do you NEED to work? Do you need a predictable flow of income by being employed by someone else, or can you manage the “feast or famine” of unpredictable income from private practice? This may vary greatly based on your/your family’s financial circumstances. Schedule flexibility may also factor into your plans: would fixed hours, rotating shifts, or an ever-changing consult schedule work for your life? Each work setting will offer something different.

Now that you have answers to those questions, it’s time to talk with other people to ask:

Where CAN you find a job as a lactation consultant if you’re not a nurse?

• If you’d like to go into private practice, there are no barriers to an IBCLC setting up a private practice, regardless of other credentials. (Note that this true if you live in the United States; research your local laws and regulations if you live outside the U.S.) But consider the demographics of your area: it is often difficult for lactation consultants to become in-network providers with insurance companies, which means patients have to pay you directly for care (and maybe get reimbursed later). Are people in your area able to pay for out-of-pocket for care? How many births are there, and how common is it for people to seek out lactation consultants? See if there are other private practice LCs in your area who would be willing to talk with you about the current landscape. Offer to pay them for their time – at the very least, offer to take them out for lunch to talk – since you are asking them to share professional expertise and hard-earned knowledge.

• If you’re interested in working in a hospital setting, reach out to LCs who are currently employed at your local hospital(s). Ask whether the department is open to hiring non-RN LCs. Just because they’ve never done it, and have always listed positions with an RN requirement, doesn’t mean they can’t change. More and more hospitals are realizing that they already employ physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other allied health care providers, none of whom are required to be RNs. Why would an IBCLC be any different? IBCLCs of all backgrounds can do excellent work in a hospital setting. If there are no LCs at your local hospital at all, see if you can speak with the nurse manager of the maternity unit. Discuss whether they would be interested in hiring LCs in the future.

• If you’d like to work in an outpatient setting like a medical office or clinic, talk with some of the people you’d like to work with. If you have kids, bring it up with their provider. Has the office ever employed an LC? Would they be interested? Feel out your possible practice settings.

• If WIC is an option for you, reach out to the breastfeeding coordinator at your local WIC office or for your area. Ask what the requirements are to be hired and how often they hire lactation consultants or  positions that involve some lactation support.

Note: Do you anticipate moving to a new area at some point? If you know where you might be headed, and plan to stay there long-term, consider repeating this process for those area(s). That will help you make a plan that is viable for your current location as well as for the future.

What if you discover your options ARE limited without an RN?

You might consider going to nursing school as part of your IBCLC pathway, but there are other credentials you might find useful as well. Speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and registered dietitians all frequently work with infant feeding issues, and are a wonderful combination with an IBCLC credential. Unlike RNs, they are also able to become credentialed and bill insurance as independent providers, which makes it easier to go into private practice. Again, do your research and consider your options! This may be a longer journey than you anticipated, but yield even greater rewards.

Uncertain how to proceed? Still not sure you can find a job as a lactation consultant if you’re not a nurse?

For inspiration, and to help give you an idea of how your career might look, we asked some of our wonderful IBCLC colleagues to share their stories:

I am fortunate to live in the Philadelphia area, which is home to many hospitals that hire non-RN IBCLC’s. The benefits of being in an IBCLC-only role means you cannot be pulled to do RN floor work when things get busy, your focus remains strictly to help with breastfeeding. In turn this means more time, more attention, more support! Though these options are near me, I instead chose to form my own home-visit private practice. A service that is uncommon in my area, and highly requested by new parents! I built my practice from the ground up and was able to get in-network with major insurance companies to offer covered services. I now have a thriving business serving parents across three counties (and beyond!) in southern New Jersey.

Kara Thornton, BA, IBCLC
Via Lactea, LLC
www.vialacteanj.com

My background was not in the medical field, but rather at the feet of La Leche League leaders and midwives. I started my career as a doula, then became a Lamaze Educator. After having my first child, I felt ready to start my IBCLC journey. I now contract at a pediatric office and have my own private practice. I appreciate that the pediatric center I work with sees me as a valued provider. They were looking for an expert in the lactation field – not someone who could do double duty.

Karissa Binkley, IBCLC
Second Nature Lactation
www.secondnaturelactation.com

In addition to becoming an IBCLC, I have a background in public health and as a doula and childbirth educator. I was the second non-RN IBCLC hired at a large academic hospital – I was willing to work nights, which helped get me in the door! After working there for several years, I was hired to coordinate the lactation program at a large freestanding birth center. They appreciated my background in public health and interest in education, research, grant writing, and developing new programs. Since my family moved to a new state, I have started a private practice and online education program. I have also been a clinical mentor for students from a wide range of professional backgrounds, and seen them go on to work in a number of settings

Rebecca Costello, IBCLC
In the Flow Lactation
www.intheflowlactation.com

I have a private practice as an SLP and IBCLC. My work as a Speech Language Pathologist with a focus on feeding therapy led me to becoming an IBCLC. In my work as an Early Interventionist, I see young children with developmental delays, age 0-3, in the home environment. These two lines of work overlap in a variety of ways, from discussing pumping with a mother whose baby is fed via g-tube due to NPO status, to working on positioning accommodations for a baby with craniofacial differences, to educating on paced bottle feeding for a parent who is supplementing due to slow weight gain but desires to continue feeding at the breast. I also see clients for breastfeeding/lactation support exclusively in the home visit setting, and my work as an EI SLP informs my perspective when evaluating an infant’s oral anatomy and oro-functional skills, and gives me tools for counseling families on how to support their infant’s feeding skills. In my Early Intervention work, I bill all work for feeding, including lactation, using SLP feeding codes. For private lactation clients, parents pay me out of pocket and I provide a superbill for them to be reimbursed through their insurance. I also have a contract with our local Healthy Start coalition, which covers the cost of some lactation visits through grant funding. Adding the IBCLC credential to my practice allowed me to round out and fill in a knowledge gap which has better prepared me to support parent of infants in feeding their children, regardless of feeding method.

Amelia Fry, MS, CCC-SLP / IBCLC
Leif Therapies
leiftherapies.com

Do you have more questions about becoming a lactation consultant, or wonder how to get started? Check out our overview of the pathways to IBCLC, or our monthly free live webinars (this link will take you to our Facebook events page – follow us for announcements of upcoming webinars). We also have a prerecorded webinar that you can watch right now!

can I find a job as a lactation consultant if I'm not a nurse?