How to Become a Lactation Consultant: Salary, Education Requirements & Job Description


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a lactation consultant! Breastfeeding is one of the first things that many mothers try to tackle after giving birth and it is also one of the hardest things to do, for some. This is where a Lactation Consultant steps in like a super hero dressed in scrubs to lend a hand. You may be an essential and integral part of many new mothers breastfeeding journey, which has more value than some people will ever know. So get ready to pick out your super hero colors and pick out an awesome name, because you will be a hero to many in no time!

How to Become a Lactation Consultant

What is a Lactation Consultant?

Before we jump into how to become a lactation consultant (LC’s), we should probably take a moment to talk about what they do. A lactation consultant is a professional that works in the allied health care field and that specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. LC’s will often work on the maternity ward in hospitals, midwifery practices, public health programs as well as private birth support practices.

Lactation consultants are support persons for new mothers that are beginning their breastfeeding journey. The goal of an LC is to provide their clients with all of the right tools to successfully breastfeed in as stress free and comfortable way as possible. Lactation consultants are also meant to educate mothers on the benefits of breast feeding their babies.

Take a look at this really awesome video from the Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding. This will give you a clear understanding of the great work that LC’s do and should answer any remaining questions that you may have. It’s not too long and totally worth the watch.

Where Do I Go to Become a Lactation Consultant? International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners

You’re probably asking yourself this very question right now, aren’t you? We figured as much, so here is the answer! Once you have completed all of the required courses through a fully accredited school, you will need to apply to take the LC certification exam through the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. They are the head honchos of the lactation world and get to say if you can hang with the breastfeeding crowd or not. The IBLCE website is nearly exploding with information and you will surely want to hit that up when you are trying to decide if this is the way you want to go.

The IBLCE offers the examination and has pretty strict requirements to even apply for the test. There are 3 pathways to choose from when going through the process of becoming a lactation consultant. You will want to select the pathway that corresponds with your educational experience. Each pathway will require that you meet the education in specified health science subjects, education in human lactation and breastfeeding and clinical practice in providing assistance to breastfeeding families.

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Pathway 1

If you are interested in pursuing Pathway 1 to become a Lactation Consultant, you will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Successfully complete 14 health science courses
  • Complete at least 90 hours of lactation specific education. These hours must be completed within 5 years prior to applying for the IBLCE examination
  • There is a minimum of 1000 hours of lactation specific clinical practice required. These clinical hours must be completed within 5 years prior to applying for the IBLCE exam as well
  • The lactation specific clinical has to be achieved through either paid or volunteer work as an appointed health professional or as a recognized mother support counsellor
  • It’s important to note that volunteers that provide assistance as recognized mother support counsellors that give in person or group assistance will receive credit for 500 hours of lactation specific clinical experience. This is reported for each entire year of volunteer service. Keep in mind that only a full year of service will be credited.

On this same topic, but slightly different circumstances – Volunteers that are recognized mother support counsellors that provide support through telephone, email or web based means will only receive 250 hours of lactation clinical practice for each full year of service.

We just want to save you from doing unnecessary work that won’t be credited, so it may be a good idea to grab a pen to jot this little tid bit down.

Pathway 2

Candidates following Pathway 2 will need to prove that the following requirements are completed:

  • 14 health science courses
  • Must complete at least 90 hours of instructive education on human breastfeeding and a minimum of 300 hours of clinical practice under direct supervision in lactation anc breastfeeding care

Pathway 3

Those that are interested in pursuing Pathway 3 will need to demonstrate the successful completion of the following requirements:

  • 14 health science courses
  • A minimum of 90 hours of lactation specific schooling that was completed at most 5 years prior to applying for the IBLCE examination
  • 500 hours of clinical practice that is completed under supervision. This will need to be completed at most 5 years prior to your exam application as well

We know that this is a lot of information to take in all at once and hope that your head is only spinning at a moderate pace. Definitely take some notes or even snap some screenshots. This is all super important information that you will need to adhere to once you are ready to get your IBLCE certification.

Lactation Consultant Schools

The IBLCE doesn’t have a particular school or academic program that they give their golden seal too, but there are a few available that meet all of the requirements for the different pathways. Check out a few of these schools if you are thinking about becoming a Lactation Consultant:

Birthingway College of Midwifery

The Birthingway College of Midwifery offers fully accredited courses that you are able to use for your IBCLE certification. All of the course work at this school adheres to all of the requirements under Pathway 2. They also offer many other programs that work very well in conjunction with your lactation consultant certification. It’s an awesome idea to check out their very informative website.

Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute

The Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute also offers all of the required courses that are required to complete pathway to for your IBCLE examination. This is an institution that is making major waves in the movement to make breastfeeding a normal part of our society. They are among the front runners of this movement and offer the program to support new Lactation Consultants.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Lactation Consultant?

This is a question with a twofold answer, but no worries we’ve got the answer. The pre-requirements that are essential to completing your IBCLE certification will take you roughly 2 years depending on what your course load is. The remaining requirements will likely take you an additional 2 years, thus making the total time to become a lactation consultant, 4 years.

This timing may vary depending on the Pathway that you choose, however. Each pathway requires that you complete somewhere between 300 to 1000 hours of clinical practice under direct supervision. You may complete your clinical practice as a volunteer or as a paid support person. It is really important to remember that your pre-req’s and clinical hours must be completed no longer than 5 years prior to applying for your exam.

How Much Do Lactation Consultants Make?

According to salary.com, the average Lactation Consultant makes an average yearly salary of $72,668 as of July 2014. There is quite a range of salaries according to the research we found on salary.com and much of the variation is due to the type of facility you will be employed in. Two other contributing factors that are going to play into your yearly salary are going to be the city and state that you are employed in.

Take a look at the spectrum for yearly salaries of LC’s and you’ll see exactly what we mean by the wide range. Click here for the graph on salary.com that has this super helpful information as well.

Salary Breakdown:

  • Lowest 10% earn $57,762
  • Lowest 25% earn $24,865
  • Highest 75% earn $81,460
  • Highest 10% earn $89,465

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Lactation Consultant Certification: Do I Even Need It?

Yep, you will definitely need to become certified with the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners. The IBLCE are kind of like the Mac Daddy’s of the breastfeeding and Lactation Consultant worlds. Think of it this way – you wouldn’t want a physical therapist performing your therapy after you had a hip replacement, right? You wouldn’t be able to trust that they knew what they were doing.

The same goes for breastfeeding mothers. They want to make sure that their breastfeeding bond and journey with their baby is the best it can be. A knowledgeable and certified LC is the only way to foster that sense of trust that the mother and her support person.

Best Places to Find Lactation Consultant Jobs

Lucky for you there are quite a few places that are perfect for a certified LC to find a job. The demand for certified individuals is increasing a lot more now than it has in prior years as well. This rapid growth is due in large part to the movement to normalize breastfeeding and empower mothers with their choices and bodies. Take a peek at some of the places that you will want to look at once you have completed your certification:

Midwifery office:

A job at a midwifery office would be pretty awesome for an LC and they are in high demand in a lot of areas. This may also be a good place to complete your clinical practices since there are qualified people that will be able to sign off on your time for you. It wouldn’t hurt to take a quick visit to some offices around you and toss your name out there early on. Many midwives are also certified Lactation consultants, so it will be a pretty good place to gain some extra experience as well.

Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program:

The WIC program is an excellent resource for nursing mothers, especially as they put a lot of effort into educating and assisting with breastfeeding. Lactation Consultants are a great asset here and every office employs at least one. Every county in the country has a WIC office, so you may want to hit them up and give them your resume.

Hospital’s Mother, Baby Unit:

The mother, baby unit of a hospital is a first point of contact for an LC. Those early days of breastfeeding can be so hard, tiring and most of all frustrating for new moms. That’s where the value of an LC really sets in. You will be there to guide, encourage and education during this time. This too is an excellent place to get your clinical hours signed off on if you are still in the midst of your certification. Not to mention that doing your clinical hours there will get your face and name out there, which may make getting a job a bit easier.

Doula:

This is something that we have been waiting the entire piece to tell you about and finally we can! A doula is birth support person that helps guide soon to be mothers throughout their pregnancies and the actual birth itself. Doula’s provide their clients with after birth care as well. What do nearly all new mamas need help with at this time? That’s right, breastfeeding support! It is very common for doula’s to also get an LC certification and vice versa. So all we’re saying is that you can do a few things that will not only expand your knowledge base, but also make you additional income.

Day in the Life of a Lactation Consultant: Meet Juniper

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We want you to meet our really amazing friend, Juniper! Juniper has a pretty amazing story and she was kind enough to share it with us, so that we can share it with you. Get ready to feel some feels here, folks!

Juniper has always known that she wanted to work as a birth support person ever since she was just a wee little sprout tagging alone with her mother on her trips to visit her clients during pregnancy. Juniper’s mother is a midwife and has assisted in many home births that little Juniper was able to attend. She would watch each birth in wide eyed amazement and knew from an early age that she wanted to somehow, someway be a part of the process.

Eventually Juniper grew up and moved away to attend college, but she still held fast to her dreams of helping women during and after birth. Life took an interesting turn when she met and fell head over heels for her now husband, John. They were soon married and before you could say “congratulations”, they were expecting a baby of their own. It was exciting for sure, but it meant that Juniper’s plans had to be put on hold for a bit. Finally, after nearly 10 long and stretch mark inducing months, she had her little dude. He was perfect and wicked cute right out of the gate…pun totally intended.

Like many women, Juniper had planned to breastfeed and was so excited to do so. What she didn’t expect though, was how hard it actually can be. No one tells you that before you have a baby. It’s all flowers and sunshine until you have a baby that won’t latch properly or you don’t produce enough milk. As her struggles become worse and she was nearly on the verge of giving up, a friend suggested that she reach out to a lactation consultant for help. She was desperate, tired and hormonal, so she found an LC and gave it whirl.

That was the best phone call she could have ever made! She got the help she needed and had her little dude nursing like a champ in no time. Her meeting with the LC really got her gears cranking again and reignited the fire that she once had to become a birth support person. She decided then and there that she was going to dive in head first and become a certified Lactation Consultant, even if that meant having to bring her baby in tow.

She started back in classes and breezed right through her required science course super fast and was ready to head down the road towards all those hours of clinical and volunteer work. Lucky for her though, her mother was a midwife, remember?. She had the perfect training ground for tons of hands on training. After completing her 1000 hours of clinicals and volunteer hours, she was able to apply for and schedule that monster of a certification test through the IBLCE. As was expected she showed that test who was boss and passed with flying colors.

Juniper was now a certified Lactation Consultant, but she didn’t stop there. She felt so empowered by her experience with her own LC that she decided to jump even further into the deep end and become a doula. She has dedicated her life to helping women through all phases of pregnancy and after birth. She currently has her own very successful doula and LC business with plans to become a midwife. She’s pretty amazing if we do say so ourselves!

Final Grade

Now it is time to tally up the final scores and see where a career as a certified Lactation Consultant ranks on our report card. Drum roll please…

  • Degree vs Debt: A

There isn’t too much debt that comes along with this certification especially since the college courses themselves are only about 2 years of schooling. The actual certification is not incredibly pricey either when you compare it to the cost of two or more years of schooling. Plus the salary is pretty sweet, even in the lower 10% of earners. Don’t forget that you can also branch out to become a doula and make some additional income as well.

  • Degree Difficulty: B

The schooling that leads up to the actual certification as well as the certification itself is not very difficult. It does, however, require a pretty great amount of knowledge, dedication and the desire to really want to do this job. You have to want to put in the work, especially when it comes to your 300 to 1000 hours of clinical hours. There is the possibility to get paid during this time, but that is not guaranteed. You will be forfeiting that time for free, but if you ask us, it’s totally worth it.

  • Happiness Quotient: A+

If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands! That’s likely what you’ll be singing to yourself each day on the job as an LC. This is a pretty low stress job. Part of that may be the happy vibes that you get off of being around all those sweet squishy babies on the daily. You will also be able to truly help women and children in an area that many women find to be very important. You will also be singing a happy song because in a lot cases you will be able to work for yourself and can make your own schedule. No more working around your work schedule when instead you can make your work schedule work around you!

  • Job Outlook: A+

The birth support industry is really booming and is the place to be right now. This is especially true given all the work that has been dedicated towards the promotion of breastfeeding and more natural birthing practices. The good news for you is that it’s still a growing industry and now is the time to strike while the iron is hot!

Sources and Recommended Reading

We had heaps of sources to help us with this big hunk of words and information. If you are really considering becoming a Lactation Consultant, you will totally want to give these guys a gander. There is a ton of information on them that will cover anything and everything that we may have missed here. Good luck to you in your endeavor to become an LC and thanks for being part of the team to normalize nursing!

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