As a new mom having breastfeeding difficulties, all she is wants is results. If she is having sore nipples, she wants them healed. If her baby is not gaining weight, she wants to give her baby enough to eat, preferably breast milk. In a culture where we can call ourselves anything we want, be aware of some discrepancies in lactation titles as they are all not created equal.
Many people in the birth community call themselves a lactation specialist and even a Certified Lactation Consultants without any formal training. However true that statement is, even those with some certification, the lactation specialist are not all created equal.
Certified programs train students to be Lactation Educators, Lactation Peer Counselors, Breastfeeding Counselors and Lactation Consultants. These programs have a specialized training that will provide class instruction anywhere from 8-45 hours. Some of it is done on-line and others in a conference setting. Most of the courses do not even require the student to be supervised or have hundreds of hours with a mentor IBCLC.
To become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant AKA IBCLC, is not quite like the other credentials. An IBCLC has to take at least 90 hours of lactation specific instruction. That is usually done in person in a class atmosphere. They are also required to have a 500-1000 plus hours of being directly supervised or following another mentor IBCLC. If the IBCLC is not already a licensed healthcare provider, they have to have additional college courses. After fulfilling all required requirements, the student then qualifies to take the lactation boards. This is a vigorous 4 hour board exam.
As an IBCLC, we have to keep up 75 Lactation specific CEU’s every 5 years. This is more than an RN needs. We also have to retake that vigorous exam every 10 years. If we do not pass, we can not hold the title as an IBCLC or work in the capacity of an IBCLC. Some will lose their ability to work with moms and infants until they pass that exam.
There is a place for all those credentials and lactation specialists, however, an IBCLC is the golden standard in lactation management. None of the other credentials have the ability or skill to give mom and baby a complete and full assessment in regards to the emotional and physical aspect of the nursing mother dyad. It is like telling a trained doula that she can deliver a baby. In some cases a doula will be able to successfully deliver a baby even though that is out of her scope of practice. But she is not trained and skilled in understanding the complete aspect of delivering in cases of something abnormal. So, those are the differences with the lactation specialist. The IBCLC is the only one trained and skilled in seeing the whole picture and specializes in infant and maternal assessment and breastfeeding management. Anyone else besides an IBCLC make wonderful educators and advocacy in breastfeeding.