How much does it cost to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC)?

How much does it cost to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC)?

How much does it cost to become an IBCLC - IBCLC training costs

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. What will IBCLC training cost up front to become certified? Is it affordable, and if so, how might you need to budget to make it happen?

Costs can vary widely depending on which Pathway you take. Not sure what that means? 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 IBCLC training costs for different components below, and label them with which pathways they apply to. 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)

As you go through, if you’re starting to get lost – because it is complicated! – we’ve also created individual posts for estimating and summarizing IBCLC training costs specifically for Pathway 1, Pathway 2, and Pathway 3.

HEALTH SCIENCES EDUCATION: [Applies to all pathways*]

*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

Pathway 2

Formal education program with mentored hours and education included:

There is a growing list of programs, mostly based at universities and colleges, which provide a formal educational pathway. They will 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 are guaranteed clinical mentorship sites and clarify where, geographically, your mentorship site(s) will be located.

COST: Varies, but anticipate $6,000-$20,000+

Pathway 3

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: [Pathway 3]

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: [applies to all Pathways]

90 hours of lactation-specific education, plus 5 hours of education focused on communication skills (beginning with candidates taking the exam in 2021 and beyond)

Pathway 2

As discussed in the Clinical Hours section, a Pathway 2 program will bundle your lactation-specific education with your clinical hours, and you pay for the entire program as a package. See the Clinical Hours section for more details.

Pathways 1 and 3

In Pathways 1 and 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 [Applies to all Pathways]:

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 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 [Applies to all Pathways]

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)

Once you’ve passed the exam, you’ve done it – you’re an IBCLC! We hope this post has helped you estimate the cost of getting there. Did you get lost among all those different components and Pathways? Don’t forget we’ve also created individual posts for estimating and summarizing IBCLC training costs specifically for Pathway 1, Pathway 2, and Pathway 3.

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.