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IBCLC Exam Eligibility Requirements: Know the Rules

Woman in white shirt checking off IBCLC exam requirements on clipboard.

My team and I get asked about the IBCLC® exam requirements — a lot. Every day, or nearly every day. If you feel confused, you are not the only one. We just try to help clarify the process. Keep in mind that most of our clients are US-based, so I’m writing from that perspective. But in general, it reflects IBCLC exam eligibility requirements.

Before you read on, please note that the IBCLC exam requirements are subject to change. The following information is our understanding of the current requirements, but not the official word. We take no responsibility for what you do or don’t do. Before undertaking this career-critical exam, get the official requirements from the IBLCE site. We’re just trying to dispel the misconceptions and clarify the facts that arise from questions we hear at the office.  

1. Beware of the deadline

Currently, IBLCE holds the exam twice a year. Therefore, there are only two deadlines for application submission.

Many candidates assume they can just “sign up” and take the exam any time they wish. That’s just not the case.

Look at IBLCE’s Key Dates for information about upcoming deadlines and test dates.

Be aware that you must complete all your requirements before you apply for the exam. (Not before you sit for the exam!)

2. Read the Candidate Information Guide

First, read the IBLCE’s Candidate Information Guide to gain a broad overview of the IBLCE eligibility requirements. In general, these come down to academic requirements, and clinical experience requirements.

3. Get a plan for meeting your academic requirements

Basically, you have 3 academic requirements: health sciences education, the 5 hours of communication, and 90 hours of lactation specific education.

Health Sciences Education 

All candidates must complete Health Sciences Education to fulfill the IBCLC exam requirements. There are two main categories of health sciences education.

These 8 courses must be taken at an institution of higher learning. If you’re in the United States, that is most likely to mean a college or universities. These 8 are:

  1. Biology
  2. Human Anatomy
  3. Human Physiology
  4. Infant and Child Growth and Development
  5. Introduction to Clinical Research
  6. Nutrition
  7. Psychology or Counselling Skills or Communication Skills
  8. Sociology or Cultural Sensitivity or Cultural Anthropology

The second category may be taken at an institution of higher learning, OR from a continuing education provider or at a place in the community. The latter is generally much less expensive and more convenient but not as much in depth. These include:

  1.  Basic Life Support
  2.  Medical Documentation
  3.  Medical Terminology
  4. Occupational Safety and Security for Health Professionals
  5. Professional Ethics for Health Professionals
  6. Universal Safety Precautions and Infection Control

Previously, I talked about the harder ways and the easier ways to meet these requirements.

Proving completion

What about providing proof of having completed these Health Science courses? Note carefully.

As we understand it, IBLCE assumes that anyone listed on their List of Recognised Health Professions, has taken and passed ALL of the required health sciences courses before becoming a recognized health professional. But, be prepared to provide proof of being on that list. For example, in the US, that would be a copy of “government-issued license or registration or a copy of their diploma, transcript or degree from their institution of higher learning.”

(People sometimes get confused, so note this: Non-healthcare professionals who pursue Pathway 1 need to complete and be able to document how they completed the health science requirement.)

You can take Health Sciences Education courses at any point; there is no “good ‘til” date. However, that’s not the case for the other two IBCLC exam requirements.

You must accumulate the lactation-specific education hours and the clinical experience hours during the 5 years immediately prior to submitting your application for the exam.

Lactation and Communication Education

  • At least 90 hours of Lactation specific education, completed within 5 years prior to exam application. In addition,
  • 5 hours of Communication. Many individuals who call us are unaware that this is a new requirement as of 2021. In addition to the 90 hours of lactation specific education, you must have 5 hours of education focused on communication skills. While these hours do not need to be specific to breastfeeding, it is preferable, and likely to help you on the exam.

3. Choose your pathway

Anyone may choose any of the 3 available pathways, as long as they meet the IBLCE eligibility requirements.

You may even meet the requirements for more than one pathway. After having talked with hundreds of candidates over the years, I’ve tried to explain how to choose a pathway to qualify for the exam. Almost always, one pathway is probably a better fit for you than the others.

Regardless of what pathway you choose, you still need to complete your academic requirements.

4. Determine how to meet IBCLC exam requirements

There are a number of options for meeting the basic IBCLC exam requirements: health sciences education, lactation specific courses, communication course, and clinical experience hours. It’s often helpful to look at all of those options and determine which makes sense for you.

As a first step for determining how to meet the requirements for the IBCLC exam, learn more with my free “How to Become a Lactation Consultant” video.

Certainly, if you’ve already figured out how to meet the IBCLC exam requirements, maybe you’re ready to take your IBCLC journey! Get started today!

If you need more help, please call my office at 703-787-9894 or e-mail us at

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