What is a Lactation Consultant?

Lactation consultants are healthcare professionals who specialize in working with breastfeeding mothers. You do not need a college degree to become a lactation consultant, but the IBLCE, the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, requires that you complete or show competency in eight college-level courses before being certified to practice in the field. Lactation consultants possess a unique, breastfeeding-specific body of knowledge which helps to improve the health of babies and mothers by increasing breastfeeding rates. They can work in hospitals, clinics, community health programs, or operate their own independent lactation consulting practices. Many people who are already healthcare professionals in other fields choose to obtain additional education and training and become lactation consultants.

Education and Training

According to the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, there are three pathways to becoming a lactation consultant. Current healthcare professionals, including registered nurses, speech therapists, social workers, physical therapists, and physicians, can accumulate 1,000 hours of paid or volunteer clinical work and complete additional specific education either online or in-person, in order to qualify to take the IBLCE exam to be certified. If you do not currently work in the healthcare field, you will need to complete a program of eight college courses and lactation consultant education, before you are qualified to take the exam and become certified. The third pathway involves assessment of your prior experience and knowledge, which could reduce or eliminate the number of college courses you need to take prior to lactation consultant training and preparing for and passing the IBLCE exam.

Where Do Lactation Consultants Work?

The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners serves lactation consultants worldwide. Many lactation consultants work for international health organizations. In the United States, lactation consultants can incorporate their training as part of an existing practice. For example, a dietitian who works in a hospital can use lactation consulting skills in work with expectant or new mothers. Hospitals, medical clinics, public health programs and breastfeeding organizations all employ lactation consultants. Lactation consultants work in community-based organizations, and often work with mothers in their homes or teach classes and workshops in community centers and neighborhood organizations.

Job Duties

Lactation consultants provide education to expectant mothers to help them learn about the health benefits of breastfeeding, both for themselves, and their baby. They also work with mothers and infants who are experiencing problems with breastfeeding. They can improve problems with painful nursing, problems latching on, and low production of milk. They also help mothers with babies who aren’t gaining enough weight or gaining weight too slowly. Many mothers are hesitant to breastfeed because they have to return to work or school. Lactation consultants help them learn how to pump and store their breast milk so their babies will be able to continue consuming it.

Related Resource: What is a Perinatal Nurse?

Medical research has confirmed that breastfeeding is much healthier for babies than prepared commercial infant formulas, according to Women’s Health. It also has health benefits for mothers, and provides a crucial form of bonding between mother and child. Lactation consultants help as many mothers as possible to develop a strong bond with their infant through breastfeeding. They help to educate the public as well, because fears and lack of knowledge about breastfeeding can unnecessarily limit this essential healthy human practice.