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Should You Take Your Lactation Course First, or Last?

Aspiring lactation consultants often ask me, “Should I take my comprehensive lactation course now? I haven’t had any clinical experience.” I stop, dead in my tracks. I wrestle with whether I should tell them the IBLCE’s requirements, or my personal recommendation for the order of completion. IBLCE’s “rules” and requirements are one thing; how you play your cards may be very different.

What are the IBLCE’s requirements?

IBLCE® requires IBCLC® candidates to complete 95 lactation specific hours (what I call “academic” hours). IBLCE also requires candidates without a healthcare background to complete health sciences courses, and requires all IBCLC candidates to complete differing numbers of clinical experience hours. Hence, to be eligible to sit for the IBCLC exam, you must complete all three of these requirements.

However, IBLCE does not specify the order of completion for these requirements.

Why doesn’t IBLCE mandate the order of completion?

Presumably, it’s because the IBLCE recognizes that many exam candidates already have clinical experience.

Many (perhaps most) people who are applying for the IBCLC exam are already in a clinical area, doing the job they are qualified for already. Therefore, it makes sense that the IBLCE doesn’t mandate the order of completion for academic or clinical requirements.

But if you have no healthcare background and wish to pursue your IBCLC credential through Pathway 3, you must figure out the best sequence.

So let me give you a more specific recommendation.

Do other professionals require “theory-before-application”?

My husband was required to hold a degree in engineering before he could test to become a “professional engineer” or hold a job as an engineer. Aspiring plumbers must complete a certain number of courses before being accepted as an apprentice. Aspiring electricians attend trade schools that provide courses in electrical theory, circuitry, mathematics, wiring, motor controls, and other knowledge before getting an electrician apprenticeship. Doctors take courses for years — many years — before giving clinical care, even with direct supervision, as a hospital intern.

As a consumer, you can feel reassured that the aspiring engineer’s bridge won’t plunge you into the icy waters below; the plumber’s fix won’t burst your pipes; the electrician’s wiring won’t blow up your house; the doctor’s prescription won’t kill you.

As a consumer, what reassurance do you have from the aspiring lactation consultant who has had no course whatsoever? She is merely “practicing” on you and your baby.

Shucks, to get a driver’s permit, you must complete a course and pass a written exam before taking a road test. And you aren’t even a “professional” driver! You are just required to be safe. Yet, IBCLC-wannabees who have had no course whatsoever are allowed — even encouraged, in some places — to “practice” their new “profession” before they pass their exam.

In my opinion, the order of completion makes a big difference.

Your clinical settings may require course completion

I have prepared thousands of aspiring lactation consultants. Many Pathway 3 candidates have had a tough time finding an agency that will allow them to interact with clients. Why so? Because they don’t have any theoretical base; they haven’t completed a course.

As a result, it’s fairly obvious that the wannabee lactation consultant will be spouting information from her own experience. That’s not at all acceptable in this day and age of evidence-based practice.

You owe it to yourself and your clients to have a knowledge base

Why would anyone who wants to become a “professional” start out by merely mimicking what someone else does?

Your mentor might be the best IBCLC on the planet. But one does not become a “professional” by mimicking another professional. Professionals deliberately connect theory and research to real-life situations. Professionals gain critical thinking skills for judgment and decision-making. They learn their stuff before they go bumbling about, willy-nilly, with no understanding of what they are doing.

To meet the requirement, any sequence is acceptable. But if you want to call yourself a “professional,” take your lactation course first.

What questions do you have about this? Write in the comments below, and I’ll try to get back to you ASAP!

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  1. Tanesa

    I’m am looking into options to start completing my academic requirements to become a Lactation Consultant. I have only worked in the dental field so this will be a dramatic shift in my professional career and am wanting to make sure I do it the best way possible.
    My ideal situation would be to complete the courses online but am nervous to pick a program/school that will not be respected. I would hate for the school I put on my resume to be a turn off for potential employers. Do you have any recommendations for an online program? Should I avoid this approach?
    Thank you?
    (Hudsonville, MI.)

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Hi Tanesa, thank you for the question. First, let me say that I distinctly remember a dental hygienist who attended my Comprehensive Lactation Course a few years ago. So if you’re feeling “alone”, you’re not! If you’re worried about a “respected” course, I’m eager to point you to my course. It is a 90-hour LEAARC-approved hybrid course that has been running for more than 10 years, and we boast a very high pass rate. All of that said, I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone who was hired or rejected based on the course they took. (And I’ve trained literally thousands of IBCLCs!) The killer is passing the IBLCE Exam. If you can pass the IBLCE Exam (and that is a big IF) that’s the big thing you need to worry about. We have a very high pass rate for for attendees of our hybrid course; we don’t hear much from our online course attendees (good or bad!) so it’s harder for me to give you any reassurance there.

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