As you research how to become a lactation consultant, you may also be looking into the financial side of things. We’ve discussed the typical costs of training and certifying as a lactation consultant, but what about once you actually certify and begin working? While you can google “lactation consultant salary”, the estimates provided by websites like Glassdoor or Indeed are often based off of a small number of people reporting salaries and/or salary ranges pulled from posted jobs that may mention lactation but not specifically be for an IBCLC. In addition, they are largely based on lactation consultant salaries for hospital-based IBCLCs, vary quite widely, and are not very specific to location – which can make a big difference. So let’s talk about how you might go about determining what you might earn as a lactation consultant.
The primary question you will need to answer as you go about investigating your lactation consultant salary potential is where you plan or hope to work: hospital, private practice, or other outpatient.
Lactation consultant salary: Hospital settings
If you would like to work in a hospital but don’t have a nursing background, you’ll want to read our post on how to research job opportunities for a non-RN in your area.
If you discover that there are good opportunities for you as hospital-based IBCLC, then you be able to get a much more solid estimate of salary potential. Part of your research can also be what IBCLC positions at those hospitals tend to pay. If you cannot find information for IBCLC-specific position pay, know that often pay will be similar to that of a staff nurse. However, a 2019 survey by the United States Lactation Consultant Association indicates that on average, non-RN IBCLCs employed in hospitals tend to make somewhat less than RN IBCLCs. (That same USLCA survey also offers some data on state-level hourly pay – but use caution with those numbers as the number of overall respondents is fairly small and this was a voluntary response survey.)
Hospital positions may be full-time or part-time, so another consideration is what type of positions the hospitals in your area tend to have available. A small hospital may not employ any full-time IBCLCs whereas a large hospital may employ multiple. Make this part of your research as well – would the salaries you’re looking at be full-time or part-time?
Lactation consultant salary: private practice
Many IBCLCs go into private practice, owning their own business (or sometimes collaborating with other local IBCLCs for a shared practice). As any business owner can tell you, income can be much more variable when you are out on your own. And it often takes a while to turn a profit after your initial investment in set-up.
See if other local private practice IBCLCs in the area are willing to share information about how busy they are, their rates, and their expenses. If they aren’t, or if there are no IBCLCs in private practice right now, you will need to do the math yourself. You need to calculate what you might reasonably be able to charge in your area and how many patients you might see on a weekly and monthly basis. Also think about additional services you may be able to offer, like prenatal classes.
You then need to consider what your business costs will be. You can often start with a “bare bones” investment, and scale up your spending as your income increases. But there are unavoidable start-up costs including liability insurance, equipment/supplies including a high-quality feeding scale, a charting system, and often registering and maintaining an LLC.
Other common costs include website design and hosting, marketing, continuing education, and secure e-mail and e-fax services. Paying for childcare while you are making visits may also be a factor.
Once you have an idea of what income and expenses would be, you can estimate your anticipated take-home pay. (Don’t forget to estimate taxes as well, as you must pay those on your own as a self-employed person – they will not be automatically deducted the way they are via a regular employer.)
Again, the USLCA survey offers some data on self-reported private-practice hourly pay, but use even more caution with those numbers. The number of overall respondents is quite small, this was a voluntary response survey, and “hourly” is a difficult estimate in a private practice setting where an individual might work only 10-15 hours a week (note that over a third of respondents had 5 or fewer appointments per week).
Overall, in private practice it is important to be prepared to spend at least some period of time at the beginning of your practice working very part-time while you build a reputation and clientele. How busy you eventually become will depend greatly on your practice area and potential client base; some private practice IBCLCs are eventually able to work the equivalent of full-time. Others always see a limited number of patients per week. Consider whether this is a sustainable financial model, depending on your other sources of income.
Lactation consultant salary: other outpatient practice
IBCLCs work in all types of outpatient settings, including:
- pediatric, OB-GYN, midwifery, and family practice offices
- working with dentists or other frenotomy providers
- freestanding birth centers
- WIC clinics
- pregnancy care centers
- home visiting program for new parents
- and more!
In the outpatient world, a lactation consultant salary will vary depending on setting and, again, whether you work full-time or part-time. If you are interested in working in these settings, take a look at what is an option in your area. For a rough estimate, often hourly rates might be similar to what the office would pay nursing or other clinical staff, but it will of course vary by office. In some settings it may be a percentage share of revenue brought in via billing your services to insurance (so the busier you are, the more revenue you generate for yourself and for the practice). You will need to do more research into potential practice settings if you are seriously considering them as a future place of employment.
As you can see, it isn’t necessarily simple to estimate what a lactation consultant salary might be! We hope this post has helped you understand more about why not to depend too much on Google “guesstimates”, and how to do your own research to get more accurate estimates for your specific area and desired practice setting. As you do this research, keep in mind what your needs are. A private practice seeing a couple patients per week at times you have childcare, bringing in a small but steady income, might be perfect for your life right now. On the other hand, maybe you need to make a much higher income and need the security of a full-time job. In that case, you will want to make sure the jobs available to you will meet your minimum needs.
If you know enough about the lactation opportunities in your area to decide that you’re ready to start your IBCLC training, check out our free live and recorded webinars on Pathways to IBCLC and our 90-hour lactation education course – low-cost and self-paced with personal attention from instructors. The world needs more IBCLCs, and we’re excited to help you along your way!