In order to become a lactation specialist, also commonly referred to as a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding specialist, one should consult the guidelines and requirements in the particular location in which she wants to work. To obtain a professional position with a hospital or other medical facility, the candidate usually must have completed a certain amount of coursework combined with some clinical experience. Typically, a formal certificate is not necessary to become a lactation specialist. Yet there is a certification program available, worldwide, for someone who would like to become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
According to the International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), there are some general requirements that one should fulfill before taking the certification exam. These include taking some specific college courses, completing a lactation management course, obtaining clinical experience, and seeking continuing education opportunities. A college degree is not necessarily required to become a lactation specialist, but certain college courses are usually recommended. Some examples of such courses include anatomy, physiology, sociology, psychology or counseling, nutrition, and child development.
The guidelines also suggest taking a lactation management course. The number of hours and other characteristics of the course can vary by provider. Some classes take place at a hospital or clinic, while others are offered online as distance learning options. The ILCA offers a great deal of information about choosing one of their recommended course providers.
Gaining relevant clinical experience is usually the next step in the process of becoming a certified lactation specialist. Working directly with mothers and their babies, sometimes under the guidance of a supervisor or mentor, can help someone gain the additional skills they need to pass the certification exam. These skills are known as clinical competencies, and they can help demonstrate that someone has received a well-rounded education as a breastfeeding specialist. A general example includes effective communication with clients and with other health professionals. Another potentially vital competency is having problem-solving skills, especially those that relate to newborns and breastfeeding mothers.
Someone who wants to become a lactation specialist is usually advised to check certification guidelines regularly, because the requirements are constantly developing and may be updated periodically. Continuing education opportunities are another way to receive up-to-date information. These can include conferences, workshops, and other ways of preparing for one’s career by staying current with developments in the field.
When choosing to become a lactation specialist, one might have questions about potential pay rates and the nature of the work. Typically, the pay scale is similar to that of a clinical nurse specialist at most hospitals. When working with new mothers, some other job duties might include breastfeeding education and teaching newborn care. Sometimes the position also entails some advocacy work or public education. For guidance, one could consult La Leche League International with questions regarding laws about breastfeeding in different US states and worldwide.