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.