How to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC): An overview of all the Pathways

How to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC): An overview of all the Pathways

How to become an IBCLC: an overview of all the Pathways

As IBCLCs, we understand the experience of becoming enthralled with lactation and getting fired up to support families – sometimes it takes just a single encounter with the field, and sometimes it’s a passion that develops over years. But either way, if you landed here because you’re excited about becoming a lactation consultant, know that we get it! And we get how confusing the route to becoming an IBCLC can feel.

One of the most frequent questions asked about becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is “Where do I start?!” Many health care professions have a single clear pathway: take required prerequisite courses, enroll in an accredited academic program, graduate, and pass an exam.

Graphic illustrating typical pathway

However, lactation consultants can choose from three possible pathways – and Pathway 1 is actually split into two different categories!

Feeling overwhelmed? We’re here to help break it down!

Please note that your final word should always be the website of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). They set the standards and policies for IBCLC training, examination, and certification. Here is a flowsheet from IBLCE to help people navigate through the Pathways to certification.

Because you may still be confused after reading through the website, we’ve provided some additional information on all 3 pathways below, with links to additional information.

Do you learn better via video or an interactive format? Check out our free recorded webinar and free live webinars, along with a discussion forum for questions.

Common components of ALL Pathways

In each IBCLC Pathway, you must complete the following 4 components:

  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)

Pathway 1

In Pathway 1, just like all the other Pathways, you must satisfy the Health Sciences Education requirements (see above) and complete your Lactation Education (see above) – our online course is an excellent fit for those completing Pathway 1.

For clinical hours, you must obtain at least 1000 hours of lactation-specific clinical experience through a supervised paid or volunteer position. However, how those hours are earned and calculated is somewhat different depending on whether you do so as a peer supporter or a health professional. To learn more about Pathway 1, click here for peer supporters or here for recognized health professionals.

Some examples of people who may earn their hours in Pathway 1 include:

  • Labor and delivery nurse who provides lactation support to patients as part of your work
  • Volunteer peer counselor for an IBLCE-recognized peer counseling organization that offers lactation support to families
  • Breastfeeding counselor working in a birth center, supervised by midwives

After you complete all of your requirements, you will be eligible to apply to take the IBCLC exam.

Pathway 2

Pathway 2 programs are comprehensive academic programs. Just like all the other Pathways, you must satisfy the Health Sciences Education requirements (see above). Your Lactation Education (see above) and Clinical Hours (see above) should be provided as a package from the academic program in which you are enrolled. You will obtain at least 300 hours of lactation-specific clinical experience through mentorship with one or more practicing IBCLCs. Always verify before enrolling where and how the program will find and contract clinical mentors/sites for you, to ensure that you will be able to obtain the clinical hours in order to complete the program.

We are not a Pathway 2 program currently; you may find a list of Pathway 2 programs here.

After you complete all of your requirements, you will be eligible to apply to take the IBCLC exam.

Pathway 3

In Pathway 3, just like all the other Pathways, you must satisfy the Health Sciences Education requirements (see above) and complete your Lactation Education (see above) – our online course is an excellent fit for those completing Pathway 3. 

For clinical hours, you must obtain at least 500 hours of lactation-specific clinical experience through mentorship with one or more practicing IBCLCs. We have more details on Pathway 3 in this post. If you are planning to do Pathway 3, we advise you to wait to enroll in our course or any lactation education course until you feel confident you can find, or have found, mentorship that will allow you to complete your clinical hours as well.

Please note that we offer Pathway 3 mentorship opportunities through NCSU, but students applying to that program must complete the on-campus, classroom-based courses first; those completing the online-only courses are not eligible to enroll in our mentorship program at this time. For more information about our on-campus Pathway 3 program, contact us.

After you complete all of your requirements, you will be eligible to apply to take the IBCLC exam.

Still not sure which Pathway is right for you?

Join one of our free, live monthly webinars! Check out our Facebook events page and follow us on Facebook for announcements of upcoming dates. One of our expert instructors reviews the pathways in detail and answers questions from attendees. Or you can watch our recorded webinar right now!

 

Summary
How to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC): An overview of all the Pathways
Article Name
How to become a lactation consultant (IBCLC): An overview of all the Pathways
Description
One of the most frequent questions asked about becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is “Where do I start?!” We've go through each pathway, with links to additional resources.
Publisher Name
North Carolina State University MILK Research and Educational Group
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