Bringing a baby into the world is one of life’s greatest joys, but many new mothers are unsure about how to breastfeed and keep their newborns healthy. That’s where a lactation consultant comes into the picture. In this specialized registered nursing role, lactation consultants focus on educating mothers about the most effective techniques for feeding their baby. When there’s latching difficulties, painful nursing, low milk production, or other common breastfeeding problems, lactation consultants will also step in to ensure babies are getting the nutrients they need to thrive. Lactation consultants can work in hospitals, neonatal centers, women’s health clinics, and physician offices or own their own private practice. Below is a full job overview of what registered nurses can expect from choosing to specialize as a lactation consultant.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average overall annual salary for all registered nurses in the United States is $69,790, which is equal to a mean hourly wage of $33.55. However, lactation consultants particularly make slightly better than average with a median salary of $73,252 each year.
When just starting out in this specialty area, new lactation consultants can expect to land within the bottom tenth percentile and make around $58,375. Once lactation consultants become more experienced and move into more senior-level positions, it’s possible to make upwards of $89,488 annually though.
Lactation consultants have a patient-facing role in teaching mothers how to properly breastfeed their babies, correctly position the baby’s mouth on the nipple, and use breastfeeding equipment like breast pumps. If patients are having difficulties, lactation consultants will devise a solution and possibly suggest a new product or clothing type that can help. More senior lactation consultants may also work with childbirth educators, midwives, and obstetricians to design breastfeeding education programs for pregnant women. From a public health standpoint, lactation consultants may advocate for breastfeeding and inform women of its importance too.
In order to be successful as a lactation consultant, you’ll need to possess excellent people skills to gain women’s confidence, put patients at ease, and effectively communicate a solution to their breastfeeding problems. Lactation consultants must have good listening skills to determine a patient’s concerns. Being detail-oriented with organizational skills is important to keep meticulous records and remain alert to any changes in a baby’s weight. Lactation consultants often work as part of the neonatal team, so teamwork skills are essential for open communication and mutual respect. Lactation consultants should also be compassionate and patient in answering the questions of stressed new parents.
Degree and Education Requirements
Becoming a lactation consultant will require you to satisfy the education requirements necessary to receive a registered nurse (RN) license in your state. You can either earn a one-year nursing diploma from a hospital-based program, pursue an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) at a two-year community college, or acquire a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from a college or university. Regardless of the pathway taken, it’s essential that you take courses on neonatal nursing, lactation, labor and delivery, women’s health, and newborn assessment. Advancing with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) can also be helpful for lactation consultants wishing to work as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP).
Pros and Cons of the Position
Although it’s a relatively new nursing specialty, lactation consultants are becoming increasingly sought-after in the United States. Since many studies have shown that breast milk is superior to formula in several ways, lactation consultants will find that more mothers will need help in feeding their babies naturally. Unlike many other nursing specialties, lactation consultants have more steady schedules during normal business hours without long overtime worries. There’s also a high income potential that makes keep babies healthy even more rewarding. On the flip side, lactation consultants may need to deal with some stressful situations in which babies aren’t thriving or mothers are facing post-partum depression. To stay certified, lactation consultants also must put in a tremendous amount of effort in continuing education classes every five years.
Once you earn an appropriate education, you’ll be qualified for taking the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) from the NCSBN. You can then use your RN license to begin applying for staff nursing positions. It’s advised that you build your resume with solid experience in the neonatal department or the labor and delivery room to acquire skills specifically for working with newborns and their parents. You could also volunteer with the La Leche League to help mothers who are breastfeeding. Look for other internship or apprenticeship programs in your local area to learn more about lactation. From there, you should pursue the credential of International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). You’ll be required to have at least 1,000 hours of practical lactation-specific experience, have 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and pass the IBLCE examination.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t track this profession specifically, the healthcare field in general is booming and the employment of registered nurses is projected to skyrocket faster than average at 19 percent before 2022. As our society begins welcoming the art of breastfeeding over bottle feeding again, there’s expected to be a larger demand for lactation consultants. Thanks to the fact that costs for breast pumps and visits to lactation consultants are now covered under the Affordable Care Act, more women will take advantage of this offer too. Demand will likely be highest in urban areas, especially in hospitals, maternal care centers, midwifery clinics, home health agencies, and private practices. Lactation consultants can create the best job prospects by earning a bachelor’s degree and receiving IBCLC certification.
Overall, lactation consultants are nursing professionals who devote their career to promoting healthy breastfeeding practices. Though the profession is female-oriented, there’s no gender requirement necessary for training new mothers who are first learning to breastfeed. If you make the decision to become a lactation consultant, you’ll be choosing an honorable career path that can reward you both financially and emotionally while spreading the positive message of breastfeeding.