A lactation consultant (please also see: Job Profile: Lactation Consultant) will help new mothers with breastfeeding in hospitals, clinics or other health agencies. If you would like to become a consultant who is certified through the International Board of Lactation Consultants Examiners (IBLCE), you will need to complete educational preparation courses and then pass the licensing examination. Unlike some health occupations where the requirements for certification vary from state to state or region to region, there is only one certifying body to award the IBLCE credential. This fact makes the requirements to be credentialed universal across the nation. Here are the steps that you must take for certification to be recognized as a competent consultant in lactation.

Educational Preparation Requirements

Many professionals who are pursuing their certification with the IBLCE are health professionals who already have a health sciences degree. If you are working as a clinical professional that is listed on IBLCE’s recognized health professions list, you already meet the educational requirements. For those who do not make that list, you will need to complete 90 hours of lactation education. You can fulfill this requirement by taking an accredited Certified Lactation Specialist (CLS) course and three additional courses that can be completed through home study.

For those who do not have a health sciences degree, there is an additional requirement that states you must have at least 8 college courses in the following subject areas: Biology, Human Physiology, Human Anatomy, Nutrition, Infant Growth and Development, Psychology, Counseling, Introduction to Research and Sociology. The lactation training course delivers both practical experience and knowledge. The additional coursework is designed to be completed after you have taken your CLS training so that you can strengthen your professional knowledge.

Hands-on and Professional Experience in Lactation Consulting

In addition to prepping in the classroom, you will need to have clinical consulting experience before you can take the exam. You must have at least 1000 hours of clinical practice, either paid or as a volunteer, under the supervision of a health professional within the last 5 years. You can obtain this experience by working in a hospital or pediatrician’s office, or volunteering with a women’s health organization. You should verify that the setting you are working in is acceptable, and then document your hours to get all the credit you deserve.

Registering for the Examination

When you have the educational and clinical experience, you can apply to sit for the certifying examination through the IBCLE. Unlike other certification exams, this one is given only once a year in July to test takers around the world. Be sure to check the closing date so that you can get your application submitted on time and avoid having to wait until the next year.

If you want to counsel or provide support to mothers who are breastfeeding, earning your IBCLC certification will show that you are a qualified health professional. Be sure that you begin to take the appropriate college courses and field-related coursework. After you complete the courses and are working with someone experienced in breastfeeding for more than 1000 hours, you can test to show you are competent to be a lactation consultant.