Understanding the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement

Understanding the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement

Understanding the IBCLC Health Sciences Education Requirement

There are four components to becoming an IBCLC, no matter which Pathway you take, as set by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE):

  1. Health Sciences Education: Either be a 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)

We go over the basics of each component in our overview of all the Pathways post (as well as our individual posts on each Pathway), but still get frequent questions the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement. So we’ve created this separate post to go more in-depth! Below, we review the fundamentals of the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement and answer some common questions:

How to fulfill the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement:

As we noted above, there are two ways to satisfy the IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement. One is by being a Recognized Health Professional. The list of health professionals currently recognized by IBLCE as satisfying the requirements is:

  • Dentist   
  • Dietician
  • Midwife   
  • Nurse  
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • Physical Therapist or Physiotherapist
  • Physician or Medical Doctor
  • Speech Pathologist or Therapist

In these professions, you are assumed to have already completed the relevant coursework. If you are NOT a professional on the list above, you must show that you have completed a list of 14 pre-requisite courses. The courses are split into two different categories – courses that must be taken for credit, and courses that can be taken as continuing education only. First, we’re going to look at the credit courses – these tend to generate the most questions.

List of courses that must be taken for credit:

  • 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

There are four main things to understand about these courses:

1 – They’re good forever

There is no expiration date on these courses, so if you so if you took some of these courses at the college level at any point in time – even ten or twenty years ago – and can provide transcripts, you can count them. So pull out those old transcripts!

2 – You may have taken a course already – even if it doesn’t match the titles above

To understand the Health Sciences course requirements, there is no replacement for a careful, thorough reading of IBLCE’s Health Science’s Education Guide. For each course, they provide a description and list of multiple types of courses that would meet that requirement. For example, you may not have taken a course titled “Introduction to Clinical Research”. But courses like Introductory Statistics, Health Sciences Research Methods, or Statistics for Health Professionals could all potentially meet the requirements as well – reading over the course descriptions of these examples will help you determine whether courses you have already taken will meet the requirement.

3 – They must be taken for academic credit, but where you find them is flexible

The above courses must be taken for academic credit – so not a continuing education course, or a course that will just provide you with something like a certificate of completion. You can do that by taking them through your local university or community college. Many people take them on websites like study.com or sophia.org, which can be the most affordable option, and which you can do entirely online and self-paced. Again, a thorough reading of the IBLCE Health Sciences Education Guide will help with ensuring courses you take online will be accepted. The guide specifies “Courses recognized by ACE Credit or equivalent college credit equivalency services will be accepted as being from an accredited institution” – so you want to make sure that anywhere you take the courses will provide you with ACE Credit or an equivalent.

4 – One course can meet multiple requirements

Some of the prerequisites overlap enough that a single course may meet multiple requirements. The Health Sciences guide notes that a course entitled Human Biology that covers “the principles of biology with particular reference to the human body (anatomy and physiology)” meets the biology, anatomy and physiology requirements. That’s three prereqs covered, if you’re taking the right course! Similarly a course in Developmental Psychology that “examines the changes in personality, cognitive ability and behaviour throughout the lifespan” meets both the infant and child growth and development and the psychology requirements. Have we convinced you yet to read the Health Sciences Guide carefully and thoroughly?

List of courses that may be taken as continuing education:

The second category of courses is more straightforward (and now you already know that you can learn a lot about them from – where else – the IBLCE Health Sciences Guide):

  • Basic Life Support (e.g. CPR)
  • Medical Documentation
  • Medical Terminology
  • Occupational Safety and Security for Health Professionals
  • Professional Ethics for Health Professionals
  • Universal Safety Precautions and Infection Control

Five out of the six courses are often offered by lactation education websites as a low-cost “bundle”, so you can take them easily together. Basic Life Support – CPR and especially infant CPR – is often offered through your local health department, hospital, fire station, or other resources. We do encourage you to take it in person if possible, but given COVID-19 precautions you may need to take it online for now.

What to do next

The IBCLC Health Sciences Education requirement is often confusing when you first look at it. With the information above, you should now have a much better handle on which courses are required and how you can fulfill the requirements.

So to figure out what you need to do next, go through the following steps:

  1. Pull up your own academic transcripts so you can remember your full history.
  2. With the transcripts next to you, carefully go through IBLCE’s guidance and determine whether courses that you’ve already taken satisfy their prerequisites.
  3. Make a list of the prerequisites you still need to take. Could you combine any of them to be satisfied by taking a single course?
  4. Plan your courses – sign up at a local community college or for online education that offers ACE credit (or equivalent).
  5. Complete your coursework and celebrate – this is a huge step on your Pathway to IBCLC!

Frequently Asked Questions about the IBCLC Health Sciences Education Requirement:

When should I take the courses? Do I have to take them before I complete my lactation-specific education and/or clinical hours?

IBLCE does not require you to take the courses in any specific order or at any specific point in your training. Remember, they never expire – unlike your lactation-education specific education and clinic hours, which must be completed in the five years prior to applying for the exam. You may complete them at any time in your lactation training. However, many Pathway 2 programs, and many Pathway 3 mentors, will require you to have taken some or all of your health science prerequisites before beginning. Consider your Pathway plans in deciding when to complete the courses.

Does NC State’s MILK program offer these courses online as part of your lactation education? Do I have to complete the prerequisites before I enroll in your program?

Our current program at MILK focuses on IBLCE’s required lactation-specific education, including communication skills, required by IBLCE – not on the health sciences prerequisites. (As a large university, all the prerequisite courses can of course be completed at NC State – this likely makes the most sense if you are a currently enrolled NC State student.) We do not require you to have completed the health sciences prerequisites before enrolling in MILK’s online lactation-specific education program.

I still don’t understand the Pathways and how this piece fits in with everything else! Can you help?

Yes! 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, including options for different lactation consultant training programs, and answers questions from attendees. Or watch our recorded webinar right now!