How much does IBCLC Pathway 3 cost?

How much does IBCLC Pathway 3 cost?

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)


*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 and (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


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+


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.


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


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.


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.



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)


  • 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.