How to reach out to a potential IBCLC mentor (and how NOT to!)

How to reach out to a potential IBCLC mentor (and how NOT to!)

ibclc mentor, how to reach out and how not to

Many IBCLCs have received e-mails and messages from aspiring lactation consultants who are looking for an IBCLC mentor (generally for Pathway 3, which requires a currently certified IBCLC to mentor 500 clinical hours). Some of those e-mails have started productive conversations about mentorship possibilities – and others have not. We want to help you reach out to potential mentors in a way that starts a conversation, not ends it!

Writing an e-mail to a prospective IBCLC mentor can feel daunting, especially with the stakes feeling so high. We wanted to offer some tips for those looking for clinical hours on how to reach out to a potential mentor, along with examples of what NOT to write and what TO write.

Not sure how to find potential mentors? Check our post on 9 ways to find a Pathway 3 mentor. Already identified some candidates? Then keep reading!

Before you start drafting an e-mail to a potential IBCLC mentor

Understand the IBCLC pathways, the education requirements, and formulate a plan for completion. Don’t start by reaching out to an IBCLC to ask for both mentorship AND a personalized lesson on the Pathways system! You can find free resources for understanding the pathways on the IBLCE website, take a look at our overview of the pathways, and/or sign up for a free webinar here.

Get involved with your local community. Show up to local and state breastfeeding coalition meetings, go to gatherings like World Breastfeeding Week events, and volunteer if you can. These are organizations you will hopefully become even more deeply involved with as a lactation student and then IBCLC – starting now will be an excellent learning experience, show potential mentors your interest, and help you network.

Use your network to identify prospective mentors. Ask around – who has taken students in the past? Who might be open to taking them? Do you have mutual contacts who can help you connect with possible mentors? Being able to reference a personal connection can help in your introduction.

Feeling prepared and networked? Identified a possible mentor and ready to send out a message?

How to craft an effective introduction to a potential IBCLC mentor:

Step 1: Begin with a formal introduction. You are seeking a mentor, and you will represent that person in your interactions with their clients, colleagues, and community. Show them that you understand how to address people professionally when contacting them for the first time.

Step 2: Explain how you heard about them and why you are contacting them.

Step 3: Explain your background. How did you get interested in lactation support? What work or volunteering have you done so far? What is your education to this point? What steps have you taken down your chosen Pathway? You are asking someone to invest significant time and resources in you. Many lactation consultants have the experience of getting an e-mail saying “I’m looking for a  mentor because I decided yesterday I should be a lactation consultant!”, which communicates excitement – but not commitment. Show them that you are serious about this career, that you have done the research to understand exactly what you need to do, and that you have already begun the work. See above for what to research before you start drafting your message.

Step 3: Explain what you would like to do as an IBCLC. Where do you hope to work? What unmet need will you be filling? What research have you done to see that you can be successful and sustainable in that plan? Again, your potential mentor will be investing in you. Show them that their investment will pay off in a realistic plan to serve families.

Step 4: Explain what you are looking for (for example, a primary or secondary mentor, how many hours you need) and share a little bit about your schedule (how flexible you are, what hours you have available). Ask if they have an application process for trainees, and whether they have any fees or other work expectations for trainees. This gives them information they’ll need to answer your initial inquiry.

Step 5: Thank them for their time and sign off formally. Again, show them you are professional and serious about your career, and their possible role as your mentor!

 Not sure where to go with this advice? Take a look at a couple examples below:

Example of an e-mail that is less likely to get a positive response:

“Hi! My friend said I should get in touch with you. I’ve breastfed both of my kids and I’m so passionate about helping other people be successful. I want to become an IBCLC and I’m working on finding someone to get my hours with. I would love to do them with your practice – she says you guys are great! I’m hoping to be done by next year because I want to take the test then. Thanks!”

Example of an e-mail that is more likely to generate a response:

“Dear …

My name is Alex Mentee and I am contacting you about possible Pathway 3 mentorship. My friend Amy said she had spoken with you, and that you suggested I get in touch. I am currently completing my Master’s in Nutrition at State U and will take the exam to become a Registered Dietitian next month. As part of my training, I spent time with WIC IBCLCs and peer counselors and loved the work they did. I am so passionate about the importance of breastmilk as a baby’s first nutrition , and loved helping families overcome the barriers to breastfeeding. Through that work, I also got a chance to attend State Breastfeeding Coalition’s annual meeting and have joined their Ban the Bags committee. I have already signed up for an online course to complete my 90 hours of lactation education, and have completed the first 20 hours.

If I can become an IBCLC, I hope to become a WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator to serve families through the WIC program. I have also thought about opening a private practice, as I could bill insurance for lactation visits as an RD. I talked to a family friend in another state who has a successful practice doing this.

I considered pursuing Pathway 1, but I am not sure I will be able to obtain my hours through my work, and I would like to get my hours with an IBCLC mentor. I’m not sure what my schedule will be yet since I am still applying to jobs, but I hope to work part-time so that I can complete my clinical hours while working. If you accept trainees, what is your application process, and do you have any fees or work expectations for trainees?

Thank you so much for your time. 

Best,

Taylor Mentee”

Closing thoughts

Remember: even if the people you are contacting do not become your mentors, they may well be your future colleagues. Showing professionalism, commitment, and an understanding of the process in your messages to them will help you both in finding mentorship, and in your future relationships with your local community. It’s worth the time to get it right!

Note that many mentors require you to have completed some or all of your education before you begin clinical hours. If you’ve found a mentor and are ready to get started with your lactation education, check out our courses – online, self-paced education ideal for those completing Pathway 3.

We hope this guidance helps you in your journey to finding mentorship and becoming an IBCLC – we’re excited to see where you go!