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6 Myths about Becoming an IBCLC: Application Requirements

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You may feel that the journey to becoming an IBCLC® is confusing. But I’m here to tell you that some of those feelings that it’s confusing or complicated are based on myths, not fact. Stay with me while separate myth from fact about IBCLC application requirements.   

Myth #1. You must be a nurse to be an IBCLC

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say, “But I’m not a nurse, so I guess I can’t become an IBCLC. Or should I just go and get my RN license?”

You don’t need to be a nurse to apply for the IBCLC exam.

And every time I hear that, I think of the students I’ve helped to pass the exam who were never/not nurses. That’s right, I have had numerous non-nurse students who’ve taken my course. I distinctly remember several non-nurses who have attended my courses in the past, including the following:

  • librarian
  • elementary school teacher
  • lawyer
  • chemical engineer
  • medical transcriptionist
  • dental hygienist
  • veterinarian 
  • cell biologist 
  • fashion model 
  • chiropractor
  • chef 
  • doulas (several!)

Caring individuals, just like you, from all walks of life have armed themselves with the education to help moms reach their breastfeeding goals.  

Myth #2. You must complete the 3 requirements in a specific order

Your well-meaning colleagues might be giving you advice that makes you feel like these requirements are overwhelming or unachievable.

Thank your friends. Their intentions are good. But often, they just don’t have their facts straight. They’re adding an unnecessary layer of complexity.   

When I first wanted to pursue my IBCLC certification, I was clueless. But I successfully made the journey. Thereafter, I promised myself I’d help others see that it can be straightforward. I’ve spent over two decades helping people just like you to figure out how to qualify for – and pass – the exam! That’s why I developed and taught the course.  

I’m going to give you straight answers from the front line. 

To qualify for the exam, you need to complete the three requirements, but IBLCE does not specify in what order you must complete them.

  • 95 hours of lactation specific education
  • Hours of clinical experience
  • 14 health sciences courses.

For further details read my post describing those requirements

Myth #3. You just need to get your 95 hours of education and you’ll be all set

Well … no. Not exactly.

Here’s the question I’ve heard for decades.  “I want to sit for the IBCLC exam. How many hours of education do I need?”

I love that question.

See, you and I both know that no one wants to sit for the IBCLC exam or any other exam!

In fact, I’d bet that any of us who have faced that exam would if we could – completely eliminate the exam experience! 

I say to them, “I doubt that your aim is merely to sit for the exam. I’m guessing you want to actually pass the exam, right?”

Many strangers have called me after they fail, lamenting their situation. They ask me why it might have happened.

I ask, “Did you take one comprehensive 95-hour course?” With rare exception, they say, “No.”

Okay, well, think about it. Doesn’t it just make sense that to pass a comprehensive exam you should take a comprehensive course?

Myth #4. You must use ____ pathway if you are ______

This is a fill-in-the blank question. It goes something like this.

Since I’m a nurse, I need to qualify through Pathway 1, right?

Since I’ve never gone to college, I need to qualify through Pathway 2, right?

Since I’m not a nurse (or a dietitian or a physician etc.), I need to qualify through Pathway 3, right?

Since I’m a La Leche League Leader, I need to qualify through Pathway 3, right?

Okay, let me set the record straight on this. I’ve had this conversation with personnel at the IBLCE office many times. Here’s what they’ve said: Anyone may use any pathway to qualify as a candidate for the IBLCE exam.

But there’s a big “but” coming here.

I’ve talked to hundreds, maybe thousands of people about this. I explain that with rare exception, there’s one pathway that makes the most sense for one individual.

The person who has no college degree and/or no recognition as a healthcare professional could certainly qualify through Pathway 1. (I’ve seen La Leche League leaders qualify through Pathway 1.) Or the person who is an elementary school teacher could go back to school and get a degree in nursing and then qualify through Pathway 1. But that sounds like the long way around to me.

I’ve seen oncology or cardiac nurses who need to accrue their clinical hours helping breastfeeding families. They certainly could get a new job in maternal-child health at the hospital or a clinic or elsewhere. Or they could qualify for the exam by using Pathway 3.

You can use any pathway you wish.

But most people want to use the pathway that’s the most direct route to candidacy. I’ve written a post on how to determine which is the best route for you.

Myth #5. Your 95-hour course must be endorsed

No truth to that.

Let me make this easy. This is all you need to remember:

  • Anyone who completes the 3 requirements can apply for the IBCLC exam.
  • Any course that provides 95 hours of lactation-focused education (which must include 5 hours of communication training) is recognized as acceptable for the applicant.  
  • Not everyone who applies will pass.

Remember, however, that what’s required for “applying” is not the same as what’s required for passing.

To pass, you need an instructor who has a very clear idea of what you’ll face on the exam. I’ve taken the exam myself 5 times. So I developed a course that far exceeded the IBLCE’s requirements to “sit” for the exam.

To my knowledge, my 95-hour Lactation Education Course is the only course with content that covers all the disciplines and subtopics on the IBCLC Detailed Content Outline, from which the exam is based. Neither IBLCE nor LEAARC requires all of that in a comprehensive course. Additionally, it offers dozens of end-of-chapter questions (with answers!).

In short, I designed the course to help people pass the exam – not just sit for the exam!  

Myth #6. You need to master all 95 hours before you apply for the exam.

For sure, you should eventually master the material in your 95-hour course.

But you don’t need to master all the material before you apply for the exam. You simply must be able to prove that you’ve completed the 95 hours.

We usually suggest using a two-step process. First, finish all the assignments before you apply for the exam. Once you’ve completed the required assignments, you will be able to download your certificate showing that you have earned the credits. After you’ve applied for the exam, go back and review the required assignments, and consider doing some or all of the optional assignments, too.

Still unsure how to become an IBCLC? See my free video series, How to Become a Lactation Consultant, for a breakdown of the process.  

How are you feeling about your journey to become an IBCLC? Share your thoughts below

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