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What is an IBCLC?


Even the title, IBCLC, is a bit of a tongue twister and what exactly does it mean?


IBCLC is the designation used by health care professionals who have completed the requirements necessary to call themselves International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. It's a long title so IBCLC eventually starts to roll off the tongue a little better.

There are a lot of different breastfeeding support person designations today than there were for the generation before us. Perhaps you have heard of breastfeeding counsellors, La Leche League leaders or lactation educators. What do we all do? and what type of support do you need? Let me explain what my role is as an IBCLC.

An IBCLC Lactation Consultant (this is the designation that I have and the term that I use to clearly identify my role) is someone who has certified under the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (www.iblce.org). The IBLCE is the certifying body for an IBCLC, confused yet? need another acronym? I think not. Anyways, what I'm trying to say is that as an IBCLC I have to maintain my certification through a body of examiners who determine that I am qualified to hold this title. The certification process is intensive and ongoing. The initial certification can be achieved three ways. Most often, IBCLC's are also professionals in a related health care field (I am a Registered Nurse) but this is not always the case. Two of the best IBCLC teachers I ever had were a physiotherapist and a pharmacist, both expert IBCLC's.

What's important to know is that to qualify to write the full day IBCLC exam, there are several steps that must be achieved first:

  • prospective IBCLC's need to complete 90 hours of education in human lactation and breastfeeding from an accredited instructor, university or college.

  • you also need to have completed an additional 14 Health Science related courses also from an accredited university or college.

  • depending on which of the 3 pathways your qualifications fall into, you would also have to complete 300-1000 hours of "hands on" breastfeeding support. As a postpartum RN, I completed 1000hrs of breastfeeding specific support prior to writing the exam.

After meeting these standards, you can then apply to write the full day exam. This exam needs to be re-written every 10 years and every 5 years I have the option to either re-certify by completing 75 education hours or opting to write the exam. The point is that I have to re-certify every 5 years or I lose the ability to call myself an IBCLC.

IBCLC's are governed by a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice meaning that the advice and support we provide is in the best interest of our clients. This means that parents and babies are protected from receiving potentially harmful or uneducated advice. IBCLC's educated to the highest standards when it comes to breastfeeding.

This is how I explain the importance of an IBCLC to my clients. When you have a problem or concern about your heart, who would you see for advice? Would you like to see someone who has been through the experience themselves and can hold your hand while you go through it? Maybe. That could be helpful. Would you like to see someone who knows a lot about the basic functions of the heart but maybe not your specific problem? Or would you like to see someone who has been educated not only on the basic functions of the heart but someone who has specialized in all the potential problems, knows the appropriate interventions, can implement and monitor those interventions, can provide you with ongoing support and who is accountable to maintain a high quality standard of care? Then you need an IBCLC, or a cardiologist if you actually have a problem with your heart! The IBCLC is the cardiologist of the breastfeeding world. IBCLC's are specialists in human lactation and the clinical management of breastfeeding. When you have questions or concerns that involve breastfeeding and the health of your brand new baby, who would you rather see?

In summary, just to identify the other breastfeeding support designations out there:

La Leche League Leader: someone who has breastfed for at least 9 months. LLL Leaders are volunteers who are qualified under the La Leche League standards. They achieve their qualification through completing written curriculum, readings and providing peer support at meetings.

Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor: this certification can be achieved online or in person by completing assignments, readings and 30hrs of breastfeeding support. There is no specific certifying body and recertification is not required. Breastfeeding Counsellors are trained in the basics of breastfeeding management and part of their role is identifying when to refer to an IBCLC.

Certified Lactation Educator: this certification is provided by CAPPA (Childbirth and Postpartum Professional Association). Lactation Educators can assist families with the basics of breastfeeding and can help prepare new mothers for the breastfeeding experience. Part of their role is identifying when to refer families to an IBCLC. A Lactation Educator cannot dispense medical advice, diagnose medical problems or provide treatment.

LC: This is the most popular term used in the general public. In my experience when someone talks about seeing an LC they usually mean they saw an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. It's important to know that the term LC is not attached to any certification at all. Anyone can call themselves an LC and the implied understanding is that they know something about breastfeeding. This might not be the case at all. Someone who has breastfed their own child and has an interest in breastfeeding can call themselves an LC and are not required to correct the misinterpretation as unethical as that is. An IBCLC is bound by a Code of Ethics someone calling themselves an LC without any proper breastfeeding education is highly unethical.

It's important to know the qualifications of the person you are inviting into your home and putting into the very trusting position of providing advice on the health and nutrition of your brand new baby. It's ok to ask about qualifications and experience. It's important that whoever you choose to work with you is someone you can trust and feel comfortable with.


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Melanie Pinet

IBCLC Lactation Consultant

Holistic Sleep Educator

Alberta, Canada