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What to Do if You’re Short on Clinical Hours

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Here’s a question I’ve heard for decades: What can I do if I’m short on clinical hours? And how can I get more clinical breastfeeding hours to qualify for IBCLC?

If you find yourself wondering the same thing, here are three easy strategies to help you if you think you’re short of hours.

1. Make sure you’re truly short on clinical hours

In my experience, most people who tell me they’re short on clinical hours aren’t. They have at least enough hours, maybe more, than they need for IBLCE eligibility.

Underestimating total hours worked

IBCLC-hopefuls think they’re short on clinical hours for one of two reasons: (1) they underestimate the number of hours they have actually worked in the past five years, or (2) they don’t fully understand what activities “count” during those hours.

Total number of hours

Full-time employees work nominally 2,080 hours in a 52-week year, or 2,000 hours in a 50-week year. If they pick up extra shifts, they’ve worked more than that.

Hence, if full-time employees spend 100% of those eight working hours a day helping families with any aspect of breastfeeding and lactation, that means they can accumulate 500 hours of clinical experience within less than three months.  

Or, those same people could accumulate about 1,000 hours of clinical experience in about six months.

However, some people don’t spend their entire workday supporting breastfeeding and lactation. That means just doing the math to figure out the hours that “count.”

So, let’s say you work on mother-baby unit. You also spend time checking pads and dressings, changing IV bags, and so forth. You can’t count those kinds of activities.

To my knowledge (and I could be out of date!) IBLCE requires only that the applicant make a best estimate of the percentage of time spent helping with breastfeeding and lactation. You’ll also find a Lactation Specific Clinical Practice Calculator on the IBLCE’s IBCLC Information page.

Not counting all the activities that “count”

Many people count only the hours they’ve spent in 1:1 interactions with babies who are suckling their mothers’ breasts.

For sure, that counts! But that’s not the only thing that “counts” for clinical experience.

I can give details later, here is a brief overview: counseling about breastfeeding in the prenatal phase, teaching group classes, or helping mothers to pump for a sick baby are just a few of the activities that “count.”  

2. Find more settings with more opportunities

I’ve seen some people get very riveted on getting all their hours at one health care facility. Certainly, that’s acceptable, but if you’re short on clinical hours and looking to gain more clinical hours, you may need to explore other settings.

Here’s a quick glimpse of settings you might not have thought of:

  1. Physician or midwife’s office
  2. Private practice IBCLC office (or home visits)
  3. Clinics, such as the WIC clinics here in the U.S.
  4. La Leche League meetings, if you can get the regular leader to give you an “in”
  5. High schools, or other programs that offer counseling for pregnant mothers
  6. Daycare centers, or YMCAs that offer programs on nutrition and health
  7. Milk banks. True, there might not be a milk bank in your area (especially if you’re in a very rural location) but that is an often-overlooked possibility
  8. Corporate lactation programs, or corporations that develop breastfeeding

Don’t forget that in different settings, you’ll get different experiences. That’s great!

Remember, you can count volunteer work, too. I can clearly remember a nurse who worked in the NICU during the day and led a La Leche League meeting once every Tuesday evening. She could count hours from both of those settings.

But you can’t count hours that don’t meet IBLCE’s specifications. See the Candidate Information Guide for guidance.

3. Do more of what you’re already doing

I know, I know, this seems obvious, right? But honestly, sometimes it just makes sense.

If you already feel overwhelmed keeping all the plates spinning in the air, it might not be realistic to seek additional opportunities. Just keep doing what you’re doing. Eventually, you’ll have enough hours.

What strategy did you read here that will help you if you think you’re short on clinical hours?

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