How do I become an IBCLC as a speech language pathologist?

It’s a question we see often: “I’m a speech language pathologist 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 become an IBCLC as a speech language pathologist can feel.

Many speech language pathologists become interested in becoming IBCLCs, either through their professional experience working with families, personal experiences with their own children, or both! SLPs have education and professional skills that are a great complement for certain parts of IBCLC work. Those skills can enhance their IBCLC practice, and vice versa.

Are you an SLP interested in becoming an IBCLC? Because of 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:

*Are you a speech language pathologist assistant (SLPA) wondering if this post applies to you? SLPAs are not considered “recognized health care professionals” by IBLCE. For that reason, although you do have a health care background as a SLPA, this post is a better explanation of the Pathways available to you.

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 speech language pathologist.

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 as a speech language pathologist?

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 at least some of your hours. If you work inpatient in a pediatric hospital setting like a NICU, you may be working on feeding goals with patients. If you are in a pediatric outpatient setting, you may see babies or parents referred to you for issues related to nursing and feeding.

However, an important consideration is whether your current role will allow you to earn 1000 hours in 5 years. You may work with lactation-related cases, but not as a very large percentage of your overall work. 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 specifically on feeding issues. Note that only time spent hands-on with families working on issues related to lactation and infant feeding may be counted towards the 1000 hours.

Note that unlike Pathway 3, in this Pathway your hours do not need to be mentored/supervised by a practicing IBCLC. Additionally, if your current license enables you to practice independently, 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 an SLP. 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 as a speech language pathologist 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 SLPs 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, an SLP working in a NICU may find about 1 hour of every 10 hour shift is spent on lactation and feeding 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 Mom2Mom peer counselor.

How you count your hours: Starting Jan 1st, 2022, old “flat rate” calculations no longer apply. Going 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 how to become an IBCLC as a speech language pathologist? Not sure which Pathway is right for you?

Still not sure how to become an IBCLC as a speech language pathologist? 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’d love to help you on your way. 

How do I become an IBCLC as a physical therapist or occupational therapist?

It’s a question we see often: “I’m a physical therapist/occupational therapist 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 as a PT or OT can feel.

Many physical therapists and occupational therapists become interested in becoming IBCLCs, either through their professional experience working with families, personal experiences with their own children, or both! PTs and OTs have education and professional skills that are a great complement for certain parts of IBCLC work. Those skills can enhance their IBCLC practice, and vice versa.

Are you a PT or OT interested in becoming an IBCLC? Because of 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:

*Are you a physical therapy assistant (PTA) or occupational therapy assistant (OTA) wondering if this post applies to you? PTAs and OTAs are not considered “recognized health care professionals” by IBLCE. For that reason, although you do have a health care background as a PTA/OTA, this post is a better explanation of the Pathways available to you.

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 physical therapist or occupational therapist.

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 as a physical therapist or occupational therapist?

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 at least some of your hours. If you work inpatient in a pediatric hospital setting like a NICU, you may be working on feeding goals with patients. If you are in a pediatric outpatient setting, you may see babies or parents referred to you for issues related to nursing and feeding. Some physical therapists specialize in breast care, including lactation-related care.

However, an important consideration is whether your current role will allow you to earn 1000 hours in 5 years. You may work with lactation-related cases, but not as a very large percentage of your overall work. 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 specifically on feeding issues. Note that only time spent hands-on with families working on issues related to lactation and infant feeding may be counted towards the 1000 hours.

Note that unlike Pathway 3, in this Pathway your hours do not need to be mentored/supervised by a practicing IBCLC. Additionally, if your current license enables you to practice independently, 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 an OT or PT. 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 as a physical therapist or occupational therapist 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 OTs or PTs 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, an OT working in a NICU may find about 1 hour of every 10 hour shift is spent on lactation and feeding 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 Mom2Mom peer counselor.

How you count your hours: Starting Jan 1st, 2022, old “flat rate” calculations no longer apply. Going 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 how to become an IBCLC as a physical therapist or occupational therapist? Not sure which Pathway is right for you?

Still not sure how to become an IBCLC as a physical therapist or occupational therapist? 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’d love to help you on your way. 

How do I become an IBCLC if I have no health care background?

Interested in becoming an IBCLC, but have no health care background?

We hear variations on this question often: “I have a degree in accounting… in theater… in communications… I work as an admin assistant… as a teacher… as a sales rep… I’m a stay-at-home parent… I have no health care background but I would like to become an IBCLC. Can I become an IBCLC? Where do I start?”

As IBCLCs, we understand the experience of becoming enthralled with lactation and getting fired up to support families. 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.

So first of all: yes, you can become an IBCLC regardless of your prior work and education! IBCLCs are health care professionals, but you don’t need to be one before you start – you become a health care professional through your IBCLC education and training. And where do you start? We’ve put together a guide just 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 pathway

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.

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 if you are not already a health care professional?

(You may also be interested in our posts on estimating the costs of becoming an IBCLC and on whether you can find a job as an IBCLC if you’re not a nurse.)

Common components of ALL Pathways

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

  1. Health Sciences Education: Either be a recognized health professional OR complete 14 prerequisite health science courses (given that you are not a health care professional, you will need to complete the prerequisite 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)

Let’s go through each of the IBCLC Pathways and see how they might apply to someone who is not a health care professional:

Pathway 1

There are two options in Pathway 1: for health care professionals, and for peer supporters. As you’re not a health care professional, you would have the option of the peer supporter route.

Pathway 1 for peer supporters

In Pathway 1 for peer supporters, you must complete your 14 health science prerequisites (see above) and your Lactation Education (see above). You earn your clinical hours 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 Mom2Mom Global 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 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. (You are generally required to complete your health science prerequisite courses before enrolling, although individual program requirements will vary.)

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).

Pathway 3

In Pathway 3, just like all the other Pathways, you must complete your 14 health science prerequisites (see above) and 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 postIf 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. 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. And 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 our on-campus, classroom-based courses first; those completing the online-only courses are not eligible to enroll in 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 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 IBCLC Pathway is right for you?

Still not sure how to become an IBCLC without being a health care professional? 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 you can watch our recorded webinar right now!

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! You can watch our recorded webinar right now: one of our expert instructors reviews the pathways in detail, including options for different lactation consultant training programs. If you are still confused after watching that, you may contact us.

How do I become an IBCLC if I’m already a nurse?

It’s a question we see over and over again: “I’m a registered nurse (RN) and would like to become an IBCLC. Where do I start?”

As IBCLCs, we understand the experience of becoming enthralled with lactation and getting fired up to support families. 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 RNs become interested in becoming IBCLCs, either through their professional experience working with families, personal experiences with their own children, or both! As a registered nurse, 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 nurses! Let’s get started:

Understanding the IBCLC Pathways

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

Graphic illustrating typical pathway

So you likely completed requirements to enroll in a nursing program, completed your classes and clinical rotations, and graduated from your program. You then studied and took your boards, and when you had passed you were officially a nurse!

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 nurse.

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 as a nurse?

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 nursing education. Your status as a registered nurse 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 a nurse:

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: As a nurse, you may already be working in a position where you can earn your hours. If you work in labor and delivery, postpartum, or pediatric settings, you may regularly be providing hands-on and/or phone or virtual support to families. However, if your current role does not include lactation support, or does not include enough to get 1000 hours in 5 years, you might consider changing jobs. For example, if you are a nurse on a medical/surgical floor, you might seek out jobs in the postpartum unit instead. Or if you are a nurse working in a medical office for adults, you might seek out a pediatric outpatient practice instead.

Note that unlike Pathway 3, in this Pathway your hours do not need to be mentored/supervised by a practicing IBCLC. You must be in a supervised role – you cannot simply go out and start helping people with breastfeeding on your own and count those hours! However, your supervisor does not need to be an IBCLC. Your nurse manager or other direct supervisor is fine.

How you count your hours: Very few professionals 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 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. 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.)

Looking back at your work over the past 5 years, you may even discover that you’ve already completed most or all of your hours. In that case, you only need to complete your lactation education to be ready to take the exam.

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 or don’t want to switch to a new job.
  • 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 Mom2Mom Global 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 postIf 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 as a nurse, 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 nurse?

Still not sure how to become an IBCLC as a nurse? You can register for and watch our recorded webinar right now – one of our expert instructors goes through all the Pathways in even more detail and explains the steps to take for each. We’re happy to help you figure our your next steps!

9 ways to find an IBCLC mentor for Pathway 3

Why do you need a mentor for Pathway 3?

To become an IBCLC via Pathway 3, you first need to figure out how to find an IBCLC mentor. This is because in Pathway 3, clinical experience is obtained through mentorship with a practicing IBCLC. This is different than Pathway 1, in which clinical experience must be supervised in some way, but not mentored (and the supervision does not need to be from an IBCLC). It is also different from Pathway 2, in which IBCLC mentorship is usually built into the program. In Pathway 3, you are often designing your own program and must find an IBCLC mentor yourself.

Who can be a Pathway 3 mentor?

As outlined in IBLCE’s Pathway 3 Plan Guide, the mentor must be an IBCLC in good standing who will allow the mentee both to observe their practice (Phase 1) and then to become 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 before they can sit for the exam (i.e., they cannot count the hours they spend in shadowing/observation). 

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 can  include hospitals, outpatient clinics, private practice, WIC nutrition programs, and more.

Along with actively teaching the mentee in clinical visits/care, the mentor must also complete forms, may assign additional readings or learning activities, and verify clinical hours. This means that when you are looking for a mentor, you are looking for someone who will serve as a teacher and guide. In that role, your mentor will do a significant amount of work. They also need to have a practice that is busy/consistent enough to give you the number of hours you need to sit the exam. 

So how can you find the IBCLCs in your area who may be potential Pathway 3 mentors?

Check to see if you can find people who have already expressed their willingness to mentor:

  • Search directories specifically set up to help students find an IBCLC mentor for Pathway 3, currently available from USLCA
  • Search online directories of IBCLCs, available from ILCA and USLCA (note – only paying members of those professional organizations are listed, so the directories are not comprehensive). Take note of any IBCLCs in your area.
  • Search “IBCLC mentor + [your city]” “IBCLC mentor + [your state]” to see if anyone comes up – some (but by no means all) potential mentors list this as a service on their website.
  • Look for programs that arrange Pathway 3 mentoring; these may be located at hospitals, independent lactation training programs, and/or universities. (Please note that while NC State’s all-online classes are an excellent fit for those completing Pathway 3, if you are specifically hoping to apply to NCSU’s Pathway 3 mentorship program you must generally first complete the on-campus courses. For more information about our on-campus Pathway 3 program, contact us.)

If you need to, expand your search to identify other IBCLCs in your area:

  • Be part of the community: show up to local and state breastfeeding coalition meetings, go to gatherings like World Breastfeeding Week events, and volunteer if possible. This will help you meet IBCLCs who may be or know potential mentors.
  • Search “IBCLC + [your city]” and note any names that come up – this is often a good way to find IBCLCs in private practice, but may not find those practicing in other settings.
  • Use local resource directories for new families, like those given out at birthing hospitals, pediatricians’ offices, and peer support groups like La Leche League, to see if they list practicing IBCLCs.
  • Call and/or check websites of area hospitals, WIC offices, and pediatric offices to see if there are IBCLCs employed.

Some things to keep in mind as you search for potential mentors:

  • Fees: Many (although not all) mentors will charge a fee for mentorship. This reflects the fact that you are essentially hiring them as your personal teacher and coach. You are not just “following them around” or “helping them”, as some people perceive. Instead, a good mentor will be doing a significant amount of additional work by guiding and teaching you. Fees for mentorship can vary widely – check out our post on cost of becoming a lactation consultant if you’re wondering about the range.
  • Hospital-based IBCLCs: Even if you find a willing mentor at a hospital, it may be difficult for them to get approval from their administration for you, as a private individual, to train with them. If this becomes an issue, you may have more success going through an organization or school that has a formal Pathway 3 mentorship program; they can often set up institutional agreements with hospitals more easily.
  • Private practice IBCLCs: If your mentor is in private practice, they may be contemplating what will happen if they train you, and then you become an IBCLC serving the same community. For some people, this would come as a relief: “I have so much work, I am way too busy, and I would love someone to share the load!” For others, especially those in very small communities, they may feel this would put an unsustainable financial pressure on their business: “I am already struggling to stay afloat with the number of clients I have. If someone else takes half of that business, I will not be able to keep doing this work.” If they feel that way, you should also consider whether you could make a living in private practice in that same community. Keep in mind that you might serve a different part of the community, or provide care differently than they do, meaning more people would seek lactation care overall – there are many factors to consider. But it is a concern for many IBCLCs in private practice, and one to be aware of as you approach them.

Once you’ve identified some potential mentors, it’s time to reach out to them. Do this thoughtfully and after preparation. Consider how you would obtain your 90 hours of lactation education (for an all-online, interactive option, check out NCSU’s courses), think about where/how you plan to practice, and make sure you understand the Pathway 3 requirements thoroughly. Once you’ve identified some possible mentors, read our guide to reaching out before you send that first message.

It can be difficult to find an IBCLC mentor for Pathway 3; you may discover that your nearest potential mentorship sites are too far away and/or that the cost is too high. If this is the case, you may consider exploring Pathway 1 instead.

Have you done a lot of reading but are still confused about how all this could work? Check out our live free webinars – every month, we review all the Pathways and answer any and all of your questions. See upcoming dates and register here.

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.