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The IBCLC: What Does “Lactation Consultant” Actually Mean?

Updated: Oct 23, 2023

“What is a lactation consultant?” Have you ever had this question, but were too nervous to ask? You may have heard your friends, coworkers, and family members talk about seeing a lactation consultant, the advice they received, and how their breastfeeding journey was (hopefully) improved or saved. It’s clear the role they serve, but it’s not obvious what sort of training and certifications qualify someone to be a “lactation consultation.”


First, it is important to acknowledge that there are a variety of professionals in the field of lactation, including but not limited to Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC), Certified Lactation Specialists (CLS), Certified Lactation Educators (CLE), Breastfeeding Counselors (CBC), Lactation Educator Counselors (LEC), WIC breastfeeding peer counselors, La Leche League leaders (LLLL), and breastfeeding USA counselors. Lactation work is meant to be a collaborative part of maternal and child health. All well-trained, well-meaning professionals have a place on the team and their contributions to improving breastfeeding rates and experiences are valuable. Still, here I hope to provide more background on the IBCLC, specifically.


Lactation consultant, or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), is a certification obtained through the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLE). The IBCLE was founded in March 1985 in order to standardize the emerging profession of lactation consulting, which grew along with the knowledge and awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding during this time. Lactation consultants provide expert breastfeeding and lactation care, though they do not have to have other medical training or degrees. The average IBCLC has a bachelor's degree (59%). They practice in various settings, such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, in-home care, or private practices, including OB-GYN, pediatric, or family medicine. Some IBCLCs work in research, policy, or for large companies specializing in maternal/child health and feeding.


The pathway to becoming an IBCLC can vary greatly depending on someone’s background, education, and work setting. IBCLE has 3 pathways to obtaining the certification. Each pathway intends to ensure that a candidate has enough formal education, lactation education, and hands-on experience to provide care in the field of lactation after passing an entry-level exam. Appropriate continuing education credits are tracked or retesting is completed every 5 years to maintain IBCLC certification.


So who is the average IBCLC in the United States? In the US there are 19,218 IBCLCs, which for perspective means that there are about 6 IBCLCs for every 1,000 live births. 96% of lactation consultants are female, 66% are white, and the average age of the IBCLC is 40+. The most common language spoken is English with Spanish being in a far second place. USLCA IBCLC Stats 2019


If you wanted to find an IBCLC near you, you could do an internet search for services around you, contact your delivering hospital, ask your OB-GYN or pediatrician, ask parent groups in your area or on social media, or contact your local La Leche League. There are also ways to search through IBCLC professional organizations like ilca.org, uslca.org, or lactationnetwork.com.


Lactation consultants have evolved to help breastfeeding become more commonplace. They are trained and certified professionals ready to help you find success in your breastfeeding journey. Support throughout this journey is vital and hopefully, now you know who to turn to with your questions or in your time of need – the IBCLC!

Lactation consultant in white coat and gloves assisting a new mother with her breastfeeding hold

Resources: ibcle.org


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