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In Short, “Know Your Stuff” Before You Touch

People often ask “I haven’t had any clinical experience. Is it too early to take the Lactation Education Course?” The truth is, there’s no simple “yes” or “no” answer. Are they asking about the IBLCE’s requirements, or asking for my personal recommendation? Those are two different things — two very different things. 

Know the requirements

First, the requirements. I’ve written about these before, and I encourage you to take a moment and review that post. IBLCE requires exam candidates to complete 90 hours of Lactation-focused education, and Health Sciences courses as well as the clinical hours in order to be eligible to sit for the exam. But they do not specify the order in which those should be completed.

IBLCE recognizes that some exam candidates already have clinical experience

Many people who apply for the IBLCE exam already work in a clinical field, doing the job for which they are qualified — a nurse, for example, or a dietitian. So it makes sense that the IBLCE doesn’t mandate the order for meeting academic or clinical requirements. But the folks who are pursuing their IBCLC certification without a health care background, through Pathway 3, are left to figure out their own order for meeting the requirements. That doesn’t mean “anything goes.” I can (and often do) recommend an order — but first let me tell you why this is my recommendation.

Think “theory before application”

It’s a rule of thumb, in education and profession, that learners should come to know the “theory” of a thing before they engage in it professionally. For example, my husband Dave was required to prove his mastery of engineering theory by earning a degree before he could test to become a “professional engineer” or to hold a job as an engineer. Aspiring electricians attend trade schools that provide courses in electrical theory, circuitry, mathematics, wiring, motor controls and more before getting an electrician apprenticeship. Doctors take courses for years — many years — before giving clinical care, even with direct supervision, as an intern.

As a consumer, you can feel reassured that the aspiring engineer’s bridge won’t plunge you into the icy waters below, the electrician’s wiring won’t blow up your house, and the doctor’s prescription won’t kill you. Shouldn’t an aspiring lactation consultant be able to provide the same assurance, that “practicing” on you and your baby won’t lead to problems? But how can they, if they lack any coursework about what they do?

Shucks, even drivers have to master the knowledge of their “field” and pass a written exam before being issued a driver’s permit! And they are not even “professional” drivers! They’re just required to be safe. IBCLE-wannabees should be held to the same minimum standard, not allowed — or even encouraged — to “practice” their new “profession” without the education to support it.

You — and your clients — deserve informed care

It is unthinkable to me that anyone who wants to become a “professional” would start out merely shadowing an IBCLC and mimicking what she does. Focus instead on gaining clinical theory and research first, then applying them to real-life situations. So my advice is this: Learn your stuff before going bumbling about the mother and baby, willy-nilly, trying to figure things out on the fly. Getting your lactation-focused education before you try to meet your clinical experience is the only way to provide good, responsible care. (And it’s the best way to learn the material, too!)

Be a professional

To meet IBLCE’s requirements, any sequence is acceptable. But if you want to be professional in the way you enter the lactation profession, follow this recommendation: Learn first. Know your stuff. Complete your lactation-focused education before you try to provide professional care for moms and babies you know.

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