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Choosing the Right Pathway for You

Feet in front of three pathways choosing the right pathway.

Confused about choosing the right pathway to use for your IBCLC® exam eligibility? It will take you less than 4 minutes to read this post and gain clarity on which is the right pathway for you. You should always read the official guidance from IBLCE. However, because so many people get so confused, I’ll break this down for you into a relatively simple explanation.

All Candidates, All Pathways

Anyone can qualify through any of the 3 pathways, so long as they fulfill all requirements for eligibility. All first-time candidates, regardless of the pathway they choose, must complete:

  • 90 hours of lactation specific education completed within 5 years prior to the application.
  • 5 hours of education focused on communication, completed within 5 years prior to the application.
  • Health Sciences Education as specified by IBLCE, including the 14 subjects in the Health Sciences Education Guide. These hours can be completed at any time in the past. And, it is assumed that all who are recognized healthcare professionals will have completed the health sciences education as part of their basic professional program.
  • Clinical hours, which must be completed within 5 years prior to the application.

So, although it’s worth looking at all 3 options when choosing the right pathway, one of the 3 pathways is likely to make a little more sense as the option for you.

IBLCE implies this, but I’m going to explicitly say it loud and clear … The big difference between pathways is related to the requirement for clinical hours. Look at the comparison chart below that describes requirements for each pathway.

Pathway 1

Pathway 1 is generally the best pathway for those who are already working with breastfeeding families with “structured supervision for counsellors, with an appropriate level of training.” Candidates using Pathway 1 are health professionals as recognized by IBLCE or they provide breastfeeding support through a recognized breastfeeding support counselor organization.

Candidates using Pathway 1 must complete 1,000 hours of lactation specific clinical practice in an appropriate supervised setting within the 5 years prior to application.

Pathway 2

Pathway 2 is the right pathway for candidates who are completing an accredited comprehensive academic program. Such an academic program must be accredited by the “Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or another accrediting body with equivalent accreditation standards for lactation academic programmes.”

Please note that qualifying through Pathway 2 means that you have enrolled in a complete academic program. (In US-based terms, this might be a college degree program.) Do not confuse this with attending a few college- or university-level classes to meet your health sciences requirement. And remember that each academic program has its own admission and completion requirements as well.

The academic program must be completed within the 5 years prior to application for the IBCLC exam.

Like all candidates, those qualifying through Pathway 2 need to complete at least 90 hours of lactation specific academic education, as well as 5 hours of education focused on communication skills.

In terms of the clinical hours, candidates must complete:

  • 300 hours of directly-supervised lactation specific clinical practice within the 5 years prior to exam application

Pathway 3

Pathway 3 is often a good fit for those who:

  • have no healthcare background whatsoever. In the past, I’ve seen chefs, attorneys, and even a model.
  • work in a healthcare role or setting but are not on the list of Recognized Healthcare Professionals, e.g., medical transcriptionist or dental hygienists.
  • are on the list of Recognized healthcare Professionals, but do not have regular contact with pregnant or breastfeeding mothers and babies.

Pathway 3 requires an IBCLC mentor to supervise their clinical experience. It also requires a plan to be submitted for approval prior to accumulation of clinical hours. There is a fee associated with submitting the plan.

Pathway 3 candidates must complete:

  • 500 hours of directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice in the 5 years prior to exam application, according to the Pathway 3 Plan Guide. You cannot “count” clinical hours until after IBLCE has approved your plan, and until after the mentor has observed and cleared you to begin direct client care.

Bottom line

Note that in all cases, you must meet the eligibility requirements before you apply for the exam.

Again, anyone can complete any of the pathways, that’s completely up to you. Still having trouble unraveling all of this? Get our free video series that gives more examples and links to pertinent information. In less than a half-hour, you’ll learn about the requirements, plan your next steps, and prepare to pass the IBCLC exam.

The accompanying table compares the pathways. Again, I’m giving unofficial guidance. However, I think that when you see the comparison, choosing the right pathway will be become easier for you. Remember that an update could be published on the IBLCE website only minutes after my post goes live, so always check the primary source.

If you still want to talk through which pathway is the best fit for you, call our office at 703-787-9894 or e-mail us at

Which is the right pathway option for you? Did one jump out to you in particular when choosing the right pathway?

Please note that requirements for the IBCLC exam are subject to change. The information presented here is our understanding of the current requirements, but not the official word. For the official requirements for the IBCLC exam, check the the IBCLC Commission site.

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