“Can I find a job as a lactation consultant if I’m not a nurse?”
This is one of the most commonly asked questions from aspiring IBCLCs. You may have gone online searching for information about lactation consultant jobs, and seen page after page of job listings in hospitals saying “RN required”. This naturally leads to the question of whether YOU can ever find employment as a lactation consultant, or whether you’d have to go to nursing school first.
So, can you find a job as a lactation consultant if you’re not a nurse? The answer is very often YES! At the end of this post, we have stories from non-RN lactation consultants who have built very successful professional careers! However, how it might look depends on your location, goals, and circumstances.
As you’ve probably already realized, lactation consultant training entails a serious commitment of time and money.
Before committing, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Ask yourself: Where do you WANT to work? Lactation consultants work in many settings: hospitals, medical offices or community clinics, WIC (a supplemental nutrition program for new families), and/or private practice. In each setting you will work with different populations, in different ways, at different stages. For example, in the hospital you will be working with mostly brand-new babies and families. In an office providing pediatric care, you will be seeing them as they get older and their needs change. Which settings speak most to you?
2. Ask yourself: Where do you NEED to work? Do you need a predictable flow of income by being employed by someone else, or can you manage the “feast or famine” of unpredictable income from private practice? This may vary greatly based on your/your family’s financial circumstances. Schedule flexibility may also factor into your plans: would fixed hours, rotating shifts, or an ever-changing consult schedule work for your life? Each work setting will offer something different.
Now that you have answers to those questions, it’s time to talk with other people to ask:
Where CAN you find a job as a lactation consultant if you’re not a nurse?
• If you’d like to go into private practice, there are no barriers to an IBCLC setting up a private practice, regardless of other credentials. (Note that this true if you live in the United States; research your local laws and regulations if you live outside the U.S.) But consider the demographics of your area: it is often difficult for lactation consultants to become in-network providers with insurance companies, which means patients have to pay you directly for care (and maybe get reimbursed later). Are people in your area able to pay for out-of-pocket for care? How many births are there, and how common is it for people to seek out lactation consultants? See if there are other private practice LCs in your area who would be willing to talk with you about the current landscape. Offer to pay them for their time – at the very least, offer to take them out for lunch to talk – since you are asking them to share professional expertise and hard-earned knowledge.
• If you’re interested in working in a hospital setting, reach out to LCs who are currently employed at your local hospital(s). Ask whether the department is open to hiring non-RN LCs. Just because they’ve never done it, and have always listed positions with an RN requirement, doesn’t mean they can’t change. More and more hospitals are realizing that they already employ physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other allied health care providers, none of whom are required to be RNs. Why would an IBCLC be any different? IBCLCs of all backgrounds can do excellent work in a hospital setting. If there are no LCs at your local hospital at all, see if you can speak with the nurse manager of the maternity unit. Discuss whether they would be interested in hiring LCs in the future.
• If you’d like to work in an outpatient setting like a medical office or clinic, talk with some of the people you’d like to work with. If you have kids, bring it up with their provider. Has the office ever employed an LC? Would they be interested? Feel out your possible practice settings.
• If WIC is an option for you, reach out to the breastfeeding coordinator at your local WIC office or for your area. Ask what the requirements are to be hired and how often they hire lactation consultants or positions that involve some lactation support.
Note: Do you anticipate moving to a new area at some point? If you know where you might be headed, and plan to stay there long-term, consider repeating this process for those area(s). That will help you make a plan that is viable for your current location as well as for the future.
What if you discover your options ARE limited without an RN?
You might consider going to nursing school as part of your IBCLC pathway, but there are other credentials you might find useful as well. Speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and registered dietitians all frequently work with infant feeding issues, and are a wonderful combination with an IBCLC credential. Unlike RNs, they are also able to become credentialed and bill insurance as independent providers, which makes it easier to go into private practice. Again, do your research and consider your options! This may be a longer journey than you anticipated, but yield even greater rewards.
Uncertain how to proceed? Still not sure you can find a job as a lactation consultant if you’re not a nurse?
For inspiration, and to help give you an idea of how your career might look, we asked some of our wonderful IBCLC colleagues to share their stories:
I am fortunate to live in the Philadelphia area, which is home to many hospitals that hire non-RN IBCLC’s. The benefits of being in an IBCLC-only role means you cannot be pulled to do RN floor work when things get busy, your focus remains strictly to help with breastfeeding. In turn this means more time, more attention, more support! Though these options are near me, I instead chose to form my own home-visit private practice. A service that is uncommon in my area, and highly requested by new parents! I built my practice from the ground up and was able to get in-network with major insurance companies to offer covered services. I now have a thriving business serving parents across three counties (and beyond!) in southern New Jersey.
Kara Thornton, BA, IBCLC
Via Lactea, LLC
My background was not in the medical field, but rather at the feet of La Leche League leaders and midwives. I started my career as a doula, then became a Lamaze Educator. After having my first child, I felt ready to start my IBCLC journey. I now contract at a pediatric office and have my own private practice. I appreciate that the pediatric center I work with sees me as a valued provider. They were looking for an expert in the lactation field – not someone who could do double duty.
Karissa Binkley, IBCLC
Second Nature Lactation
In addition to becoming an IBCLC, I have a background in public health and as a doula and childbirth educator. I was the second non-RN IBCLC hired at a large academic hospital – I was willing to work nights, which helped get me in the door! After working there for several years, I was hired to coordinate the lactation program at a large freestanding birth center. They appreciated my background in public health and interest in education, research, grant writing, and developing new programs. Since my family moved to a new state, I have started a private practice and online education program. I have also been a clinical mentor for students from a wide range of professional backgrounds, and seen them go on to work in a number of settings
Rebecca Costello, IBCLC
In the Flow Lactation
I have a private practice as an SLP and IBCLC. My work as a Speech Language Pathologist with a focus on feeding therapy led me to becoming an IBCLC. In my work as an Early Interventionist, I see young children with developmental delays, age 0-3, in the home environment. These two lines of work overlap in a variety of ways, from discussing pumping with a mother whose baby is fed via g-tube due to NPO status, to working on positioning accommodations for a baby with craniofacial differences, to educating on paced bottle feeding for a parent who is supplementing due to slow weight gain but desires to continue feeding at the breast. I also see clients for breastfeeding/lactation support exclusively in the home visit setting, and my work as an EI SLP informs my perspective when evaluating an infant’s oral anatomy and oro-functional skills, and gives me tools for counseling families on how to support their infant’s feeding skills. In my Early Intervention work, I bill all work for feeding, including lactation, using SLP feeding codes. For private lactation clients, parents pay me out of pocket and I provide a superbill for them to be reimbursed through their insurance. I also have a contract with our local Healthy Start coalition, which covers the cost of some lactation visits through grant funding. Adding the IBCLC credential to my practice allowed me to round out and fill in a knowledge gap which has better prepared me to support parent of infants in feeding their children, regardless of feeding method.
Amelia Fry, MS, CCC-SLP / IBCLC
Do you have more questions about becoming a lactation consultant, or wonder how to get started? Check out our overview of the pathways to IBCLC, or our monthly free live webinars (this link will take you to our Facebook events page – follow us for announcements of upcoming webinars). We also have a prerecorded webinar that you can watch right now!