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Should You Take Your Lactation Course First, or Last?

Wooden chess board with pieces set for a game.

Often, we get hung up on sequence. Sometimes, that’s overkill. So many people wonder if they could take a lactation course first or last when meeting requirements for the IBCLC exam.

People often ask me, “Should I take my comprehensive lactation course now? I haven’t had any clinical experience.” I stop, dead in my tracks. Then I wrestle with whether I should tell them the IBLCE’s requirements or my personal recommendation for the order of completion.

IBLCE’s “rules” and requirements are one thing; how you play your cards may be very different.

What are the IBLCE’s requirements?

IBLCE requires IBCLC candidates to complete 95 lactation specific hours (what I call “academic” hours). IBLCE also requires candidates without a healthcare background to complete health sciences courses, and requires all IBCLC candidates to complete differing numbers of clinical experience hours. Hence, to be eligible to sit for the IBCLC exam, you must complete all three of these requirements.

However, IBLCE does not specify the order of completion for these requirements.

Why doesn’t IBLCE mandate the order of completion?

Presumably, it’s because the IBLCE recognizes that many exam candidates already have clinical experience.

Many (perhaps most) people who are applying for the IBCLC exam are already in a clinical area, doing the job they are qualified for already. Therefore, it makes sense that the IBLCE doesn’t mandate the order of completion for academic or clinical requirements.

But if you have no health care background and wish to pursue your IBCLC credential through Pathway 3, you must figure out the best sequence.

So, here’s some food for thought about why you should take a lactation course first.

Do other professionals require “theory-before-application”?

My husband was required to hold a degree in engineering before he could test to become a “professional engineer” or hold a job as an engineer. Aspiring plumbers must complete a certain number of courses before being accepted as an apprentice. Aspiring electricians attend trade schools that provide courses in electrical theory, circuitry, mathematics, wiring, motor controls, and other knowledge before getting an electrician apprenticeship. Doctors take courses for years — many years — before giving clinical care, even with direct supervision, as a hospital intern.

As a consumer, you can feel reassured that the aspiring engineer’s bridge won’t plunge you into the icy waters below; the plumber’s fix won’t burst your pipes; the electrician’s wiring won’t blow up your house; the doctor’s prescription won’t kill you.

As a consumer, what reassurance do you have from the aspiring lactation consultant who has had no course whatsoever? She is merely “practicing” on you and your baby.

Shucks, to get a driver’s permit, you must complete a course and pass a written exam before taking a road test. And you aren’t even a “professional” driver! You are just required to be safe. Yet, IBCLC-wannabees who have had no course whatsoever are allowed — even encouraged, in some places — to “practice” their new “profession” before they pass their exam.

In my opinion, the order of completion makes a big difference.

Your clinical settings may require course completion

I have prepared thousands of aspiring lactation consultants. Many Pathway 3 candidates have had a tough time finding an agency that will allow them to interact with clients. Why so? Because they don’t have any theoretical base; they haven’t completed a course.

As a result, it’s fairly obvious that the aspiring lactation consultant will be spouting information from her own experience. That’s not at all acceptable in the age of evidence-based practice.

And it’s a strong reason for why you’d want to take a lactation course first.

You owe it to yourself and your clients to have a knowledge base

Why would anyone who wants to become a “professional” start out by merely mimicking what someone else does?

Your mentor might be the best IBCLC on the planet. But one does not become a “professional” by mimicking another professional.

Professionals deliberately connect theory and research to real-life situations.

Professionals gain critical thinking skills for judgment and decision-making. They learn their stuff before they go bumbling about, willy-nilly, with no understanding of what they are doing.

To meet the requirement, any sequence is acceptable. But if you want to call yourself a “professional,” take your lactation course first.

What questions do you have about the sequence of completing your IBLCE requirements? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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