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Are You Ready to Start a Private Lactation Practice?

Individual contemplating the move to start a private lactation practice.

Even before they pass the IBLCE Exam, people often ask me questions about how to start a private lactation practice, how to attract clients, how to get referrals, and all of that. I warn them that before jumping into the “doing” part, they need to consider if they are ready to start a business. Most of them look at me, perplexed.

I would urge you to stay in the exploratory mode until you’ve thought through some questions. Here’s the tip of the iceberg.

Weigh the possible risks and the hoped-for benefits

I don’t want to rain on your parade, but please aware of what you’re risking. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics say that only about half of all new establishments survive five years or more.

On the flip side, the same source says that “The health care and social assistance industry, for example, consistently ranks among the industries with the highest survival rates over time, while construction ranks among the lowest. (See chart 4,)”

Get a good reality check

Many IBCLCs have told me they want to start a private lactation practice so they can have more time to themselves. To be blunt, I think they’re deluding themselves. Even if you keep set hours, your work is never done. True, you don’t need to ask a supervisor for a day off.

But you almost always need to schedule your day off well in advance, and you must accept the consequences of taking a day off. In other words, on the days you don’t work, you don’t earn money, and yet the work and the bills pile up.

My father owned his own business and I own my own business. I can tell you from experience that being a business owner frequently interferes with your personal or family plans.

Others tell me they want to work only part-time. Even if you work only 20 billable hours a week, you still need to do advertising, bookkeeping, and so forth. That includes setting up a website, marketing on social media, attracting new clients, and keeping records. All of that takes pretty much the same amount of time whether your office is open full-time or part-time.

Before you start a private lactation practice, think long and hard about the impact — and often the sacrifices, on both you and your family. 

Be sure to listen to my interview with retired IBCLC Judy Eastburn who worked as a lactation consultant in private practice in the greater Dallas area for more than three decades

Rarely do IBCLCs say the phrase “private practice” in the same sentence as “own a business.” Yet, that’s what it is. If you start a private lactation practice, you are a business owner. That means there are at least three major legal aspects that you will need to address.

Liability insurance

First, if you are offering consulting services to mothers and babies, you need to purchase professional liability insurance. (And by the way, you’ll need to budget for that, too. It isn’t cheap.) Ask your attorney to advise you about any other type(s) of insurance you’ll need as a business owner.

Next, you’ll need to figure out what legal structure works best for you. You can’t just go out in your front yard and hang a sign. You’ll also need a legal structure for keeping your personal finances separate from your business finances.

Most small businesses start as a limited liability company (LLC). This structure is flexible, and it gives owners some protection from personal liability. (I’m not an attorney, and this is not legal advice, but it’s a stern warning that you need to find legal advice!)

On a similar but related note, you’ll need to get the proper registration from the town or county. And don’t assume you can automatically set up your business in your home. Some locales have zoning laws that will prohibit you from doing that.

Anyway, to start a private lactation practice, you’ll need to create the articles of incorporation, get an employer identification number (yes, in the US, you’ll need this, even if you don’t yet have employees), and you may need to apply for various licenses, depending on where you live. 

I know this sounds boring as all get-out. But — you can’t be in business until you’re legal!

I’m guessing that this whole business plan, legal structure stuff isn’t what you wanted to hear. You wanted to jump right into the how-to of getting new clients and giving care.

But you really should not do any of that until you legally start a business, which just happens to be a private lactation practice. And by the way — I’ve only just skimmed the surface of your first steps to opening a business.

You may feel overwhelmed. I don’t blame you!  But take heart.  There are some great resources out there to help you start a private lactation practice.

Unless you’ve had previous experience doing something — in this case, owning a business—it’s tough to figure it all out by yourself. Try to find a mentor. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce; they can be very helpful, too.

Similarly, seek help from SCORE. SCORE is the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, with more than 10,000 volunteers in 300 chapters. They are a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Since its inception in 1964 (when it was called Service Corps of Retired Executives), SCORE has helped more than 11 million entrepreneurs through mentoring, workshops and educational resources.

I’ve seen so many clinical experts, people who are passionate about breastfeeding, and truly want to start a private lactation practice. But they often don’t fully grasp that it means being a business owner, and there are more similarities than differences between the lactation consultant and other entrepreneurs: the plumbers, the software consultants, or the architects.

I’m not trying to hold up a stop sign. But I’m trying to create a speed bump so you don’t head into this full throttle.

After your exploratory phase, if you still want to do it, go for it! But just be aware of the benefits and risks, the realities of the role, and the fact that having clinical skills — while absolutely necessary — will not be enough to keep you from becoming a statistic in the business world. Do some exploring and some pre-planning and find resources to help you before you move forward.

What do you anticipate is your biggest hurdle as you start a private lactation practice? Have you already given thought to what goes into being in business for yourself? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below!

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  1. Janice

    Marie, what about going to the mother home to help with breastfeeding. Not setting up an office, but traveling with your bag of breastfeeding info and supplies? Thank you.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Janice, just to remind you, I’m an independent educator, not an “official” representative for IBLCE, but I’ve been doing this for decades and the short answer is, no. The IBLCE is clear that the clinical hours must be in some sort of healthcare setting. See page 7 of the Candidate Information Guide. Thank you for the question, hope this helps. Let me know if I can be of further help.

      • Marie Biancuzzo

        Janice, I just re-read your question. I thought you were asking about hours to qualify for the exam, and then I realized my post was on whether you’re ready to start a private lactation practice. So I’m now wondering if you’re saying that you’re already an IBCLC, and you want to provide care, you just don’t want to do it in an office setting. You want to make home visits. If that’s the case, then I’m not sure what your question is. If you charge money to provide services, it’s a business. Here’s a different but similar example. If you’re a veterinarian who provides care to horses, you can’t really have the horse come to your office. You need to bring a bag with your supplies and do a “home” visit. But you’re still providing a service, and you give the owner a bill for your services. That’s a business. That’s different than if you want to be a helpful friend or neighbor. Does that make sense?

  2. Marie Biancuzzo

    Oh good! I felt bad there for a minute, I thought…oh, I totally missed the boat on this woman’s question. Glad I finally made sense! Best wishes for a happy retirement!

  3. Sarah McFarland

    I am a CBC and not yet in pursuit of IBCLC due to financial constraints. This is all I ever wanted to do if I can be that “simple”. I have had a few, large hurdles in my nursing journey and lactation education. I work in pediatric practice right now as a BSN, RN. Thank you for your thought provoking article! In my dreams, I can see the front window of my clinic. It’s beautiful. 🙂
    PS Love your podcast too.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Keep you dream, Sarah! Fear not, you will be able to move past your current humps and bumps. Commit to doing it. Believe you can do it. You can!

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Diana, as far as I know, you may start a private practice with no credential whatsoever! It’s a business. Anyone can start a business, at least here in the US. Your real question, however, is…do you have enough “breadth” of knowledge to tackle the sorts of things that parents are willing to pay for. Similarly, is the business sustainable? I would encourage you to listen to this podcast by a woman who earned her lactation counseling certificate, but found that she really needed to earn the IBCLC. I’d venture to say that very few parents would be willing to pay for a private consultation unless they have a complicated case, so keep that in mind. So it’s not about “starting” so much as it’s about being able to really serve that population; it’s not about starting a business, it’s about growing a business. BTW, news flash! I’m soon going to be running a LIVE “coffee chat” so please, stay tuned. I’ll be answering questions live! If you haven’t already subscribed to my newsletter, please do so to learn about these special opportunities!

  4. Kelly

    Can you be a nurse in a postpartum unit and have your on the side private lactation business? I can not find much information on this topic thank you.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Hi Kelly. Well, there are two answers here. Thinking more broadly, I’d say, what you’re asking is, could a person hold two jobs. And the answer is, yes. Yes or course. You could hold a job as a postpartum nurse, and as a church organist on the weekend. There is no law prohibiting someone from holding two jobs. But there is another aspect to this, which is ethical. You cannot “recruit” your hospital patients to become your private-practice clients later. That’s not ethical. If you subscribe to my blog, you will be notified on the dates during which you can ask me questions LIVE via Zoom each month! I’m happy to handle these and other qeustions. Hope this helps.

  5. Jessica

    Hi! If I have a major in Human Physiology and public health and I want to get my masters in lactation consulting and take the IBCLC. Will it be difficult for me to get a job? I see so many job postings that also say RN and I do not want to go to nursing school. I was also wondering if it was difficult to start a private practice right up or how much experience you had beforehand as a IBCLC.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Hi Jessica, good questions, all! And by the way, I’m offering live “Coffee Chats” next week, via Zoom, and you’re welcome to come and ask similar or additional questions if you’d like. In short: Difficulty getting a job. It very much depends on where you live, and how many IBCLCs are in your area, and what the perceived “need” is. It also depends on the setting. I wrote a previous post on an non-RN getting a job in a hospital (possible, but chances are slim) so again, not to dodge your question, but your locale has a LOT to do with the answer. On starting a private practice, I have several blog posts on that (put “private practice” into the search bar of the blog) but two factors leap to my mind. (1) I want to emphasize that starting a private practice means starting a business! And as one who has done it, I can tell you that starting a business is difficult, yes. (And I’m currently coaching a nurse who is starting her private practice. It’s difficult.) Is it worth it? Well, you have to be cut out for it. Some people are, some aren’t. (2) How much experience do you need before you’re ever in a situation where you are not surrounded by experienced colleagues? Wow, that’s a loaded question! Most authorities say you need to have 10,000 hours of experience before you are an expert. I agree. And I’d say that if you’re in private private practice, you owe it to your clients to be an expert. Again, please feel free to join me on my Coffee Chat this coming week. Or, if you are interested in 1:1 coaching for your upcoming endeavor, let me know, I’m happy to explore that option with you!

  6. Kelly

    As an IBCLC I am considering the idea of starting a private business to provide lactation support in the small community I live, where this service is a much needed resource. My question is, would I have to set up an office to have this type of business or could I offer these services like home health nursing and see all clients in their homes?
    Thank you!

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Hi Kelly, thank you for asking. Here’s the short answer to your question: You could probably come up with any model you want to! It sounds like your question is about locations. If so, I’d urge you to start by reading my blog post on locations for private practice. And, I have several posts on issues related to private practice. As you know, each of my posts are about a 3-minute read, so I’d encourage you to read several or all of them. Go to my main blog page, and in the upper right corner, put “private practice” into the search bar, and you will see several posts that might interest you. One is a 3-part series; you won’t want to miss! Let me know if you need more help.

    • Marie Biancuzzo

      Hi Kait, thank you for the question. As far as I know, there is no legal requirement offering “consulting” services. But having a certification can improve your chances of attracting clients. That’s true for lactation or bookkeeping or anything else!

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