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.