What is an IBCLC anyway?!?!

When someone asks me what I do for work, I usually say I am a Lactation Consultant.  But that is not the whole story.  I am actually an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).  It’s faster to say it the first way, but I am proud of those letters, so I try to use it so people get used to hearing it (and knowing exactly what it means).

An IBCLC is the gold standard in lactation care.  The U.S. Surgeon General called IBCLCs “the only health care professionals certified in lactation care” and that we have the “specific expertise and training in the clinical management of complex problems with lactation.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011).

There are a few pathways to the IBCLC certification; a health professional (nurse, doctor, midwives and a number of others) can count their hours at  work and their education covers the 14 health science courses(Pathway 1).  They can do their 90 hours of lactation specific education and count the previous 1000 hours in their job that involved working with breastfeeding parents and babies.

Recognized breastfeeding peer supporters (including La Leche League )can also use their hours supporting families, they need 1000 as well (Pathway 1 as well). They also need the 14 health science pre-requisite courses and 90 hours of lactation specific education.

There are a number of post secondary institutions that provide the 90 hours of lactation specific education, the 14 health science courses and then students obtain 300 hours of mentored hours through these institutions(Pathway 2).  There are not many of these programs, and I believe most are in the U.S.

My path to the IBCLC was via Pathway 3. In this pathway I obtained the 90 hours of lactation specific education and the 14 health science courses (most of which I obtained with my General Arts and Science Bachelors Degree + my college diploma in Science Laboratory Technology).  I then obtained 500 hours directly mentored by IBCLCs. My pathway had to be approved before starting to accrue hours.  In this route I saw a range of babies at many different ages and breastfeeding stages.  I was also fortunate to work with more than one IBCLC, so I learned many different ways to approach supporting breastfeeding parents and the varied situations they are experiencing. I obtained the 90 hours of lactation specific education at The International Breastfeeding Centre and my clinical hours at the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic. In order to graduate from that program I actually obtained more than 500 hours and passed 3 clinical exams.  And then the written exam! 3 hours of questions on a topic that is hard to be tested on because there is no real person sitting in front of you, only pictures and sometimes cryptic questions.  I studied A LOT (ask my family!) and I passed (didn’t think I had, right after the exam!) and then 6 week wait to find out the results.

One of the aspects of this career I am passionate about is that all parents get in person help if they want it.  At the clinic I work at and in my private practice I spend between 1.5 and 2 hours in a first visit.  Due to the volume of patients, this is not often possible in the hospital.  I would like to see more IBCLCs in hospitals, not just the single one that is often there and trying to help everyone. Or only available Monday to Friday 9 to 5. Babies are born all times of the day and night.  Unfortunately this is often not the case, so families (if they are even aware that this service exists) call a private practice IBCLC (such as myself) and often have to pay out of pocket for this service.  A group of my colleagues and I are working on regulation so this service will be covered by extended health care (among other goals).  Please follow along at our facebook page Ontario Committee to Regulate Lactation Consultants.



U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). “The Surgeon General´s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding”. Washington, DC: U.S.: Office of the Surgeon General.

IBCLE website

International Breastfeeding Centre

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