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Episode 13 - FAQs About Lactation Training

Hi and welcome back to the Lactation Training Lab Podcast. I'm Christine, an IBCLC and childbirth educator based in the United States. I help lactation care providers optimize their lactation practice and career through resources, information, and mindset shifts that help them to clarify and re-claim their purpose and mission in lactation work. I've been in the lactation field for 20 years now and this podcast is my way of sharing with you what I’ve learned and what the future holds for those of us supporting families and babies. Whether you are seasoned or studying, I hope this show will make you think and inspire you to act! Let's get started.

Welcome back to the Lactation Training Lab Podcast. On today's episode we are going to go through some FAQs about the lactation field, about getting into the lactation field, and the work that we do. I really wanted to share some of these frequently asked questions with you because I know that even if you are already in the field, having some answers that you've thought about and prepared in advance may make your life easier every time you get those calls or those questions from people around you. If you are one of those who are thinking of entering this field, there’s a lot of tips for you. We’ll go through some specific information about the process of becoming trained and entering the field, and we'll go through some tips on who should be doing this work and who should really not, and what to do about thinking in terms of timeframes. Timeframes are one of the most common questions that we get, and there are a lot of ways that people are seeking this kind of information these days. There are a lot of Facebook groups for people to find information and seek out their first information about entering the field. There are a lot of websites that people are visiting to get this information and then of course there’s face-to-face or via computer contact where people are asking about this process. I break it down and simplify a little bit for you.

The Lactation Training Lab builds up the person behind your practice. We’re looking at things that are going to support your work, your mission, your purpose, and make you feel more fulfilled in the work that you do. It makes sense that we’re going to visit this conversation about entering the field and about how that process goes.

I want to remind you of some of the core premises of The Lactation Training Lab. Your personal experience with lactation is meaningful, valuable, and inspirational, and knowing how to share it really well and appropriately makes a bigger impact. Education courses and certifications are only the beginning of the lifelong learning journey and they don't predict or constrain your ability to make an impact. We’ll talk a lot about that today. Connecting with others to share, learn, and express yourself is the key to progress and expanding your potential. The lactation care equation really is science + excellent counseling. Counseling is about people so that's where that comes in. Our values are pretty simple: simplicity, physiology, thoughtfulness, dignity, commitment, empathy, gratitude, global context, future first, and resourcefulness. We’ll revisit all of those as we go through this information today.

I’d like to start with timeline kind of questions. It’s a really common theme in the questions that we see in Facebook groups about the process of becoming an IBCLC or for becoming a lactation care provider, and the reason this is so broad and such a vague thing - even when somebody has already sought information - official information - it can seem like there's no, you know, this-or-that kind of answer and there is no this-or-that kind of answer because the process is made to be robust enough to allow for a lot of different people in a lot of different settings to be able to pursue this kind of training and certification. A little bit about the process: here are the the main 3 things; a lot of webinars and trainings that you’ll hear, a lot of intros to this particular topic are going to break down the process into 3 and they're going to go by pathway because there are three Pathways that are set out by the certifying board. The certifying board for the IBCLC is the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, known by their acronym IBLCE (You’ll hear me refer to IBLCE quite a bit.) IBLCE sets out these pathways as a way for people to determine which pathway they're going to use based on their existing background and their access to certain types of training. A lot of the webinars and trainings that you'll hear will separate what they're speaking about into the pathways, but I'd really like to look at the 3 parts of the training itself.

The three things that everyone has to have and what differs per pathway is where you're getting that determination from your existing background, training, education, access to new trainings. You've got 3 basic buckets of how this preparation for the exam really works. You've got your lactation-specific education, so that's didactic education that is around lactation itself, the science of it, how it works, what we do when there's a problem, all of those parts - the information. Then there's the health science bucket, which is things that are about caring for people in a healthcare environment, it's about how the human body works, those types of things. Then you've got your mentorship or clinical portion of all the training. All 3 of these buckets of preparation come together - they coalesce into an application to sit for the IBCLC exam. You have to have completed all of those things before you can even apply, then once you apply, you would sit for the exam. Then there's a waiting period while they score the exams, and then you would find out if you had been certified or not. Once you're certified that means that you're certified to practice immediately as an IBCLC - there is no waiting time, there's no practice time. You are expected to be ready to get out there and do this work, so the preparation for that exam needs to be really robust and it needs to take some time.

The time frame that they've set around this is that for two of those buckets it needs to be done in the 5 years just prior to applying for the exam. You’ve got your lactation-specific education that needs to happen in those five years before the application, and then you've got your mentorship and clinicals that need to happen in the 5 years before you apply. Then there's the health science bucket: the health science bucket sits a little bit outside of that framework because you can take those health science classes at any time. You can take those 20 years before you decide to enter into this process, or you can take them during this process. They also have to be completed before you apply, but they can have occurred outside of that previous 5 year window.

It's pretty clear why someone doing this work would need to have those health science classes and that background, and one of the main ways that people determine which pathway they're going to use is if they hold an existing Health Care license or another credential. Often they are excused by IBLCE from needing to take those again because those were already included in the training that they took for their original health license. That's one way that things are determined in terms of pathways. Lactation-specific education: obviously we want this education and information to be very recent, so it needs to be happening in those 5 years just prior to application. Same with clinicals: we want people to be getting experiences that are current, and they’re working with people who are current in their information, so that’s why those need to happen in that timeframe.

It doesn't mean that for everyone it takes 5 years to do this, but it also is meant to be a process that takes enough time for people to learn a lot and be prepared to practice the day they receive their certificate in the mail. What is really the optimal length of preparation for the IBCLC exam? Well, you could take 5 years to do it. I have mentored many people and in my experience people who take at least 2 full years for their preparation tend to be more prepared and feel a lot more confident when they receive their IBCLC certificate. Taking your time in this process matters. You really want to visit why you are doing this if you are trying to find the fastest way to make it happen. We’ll revisit that again throughout this conversation.

I also believe that once you are certified as an IBCLC, you should spend about 2 or 3 years just being an IBCLC, doing the work. At 5 years when you recertify, it's a good time to decide if you want to specialize in a certain topic or issue. It’s a good time to revisit your purpose and your mission and determine if you are where you want to be because becoming an IBCLC is not the end of the journey - it's just part of it! (For some people, it's not part of it at all - we'll talk about that as well; I’ve got an FAQ about that as well.)

While you are just being an IBCLC in those first few years, definitely be involved in mentoring and be involved in the field on a local level, state level, the national level, and the international level. Be always seeking opportunities to connect with other people who do the work that you do. Often that's how people determine whether they would like to specialize in some way or if they’d like to change settings or they’d like to transition from one setting to another. There's so much opportunity if you are being really intentional about staying involved in everything that's going on around you.

That's my answer to that question. That doesn't mean it's the only answer - they give you 5 years to make all those things happen that you need to do before you apply, but I can definitely tell you that when people rush it, regardless of which pathway they use, when they try to rush through the preparation for the exam, even if they pass the exam, their confidence level and honestly their competence level is not the same. It makes sense to understand and to really think about the fact that the more experience and mentorship you have and the more time you take to accumulate it, the more experienced you really will be and the more qualified you will be to provide the type of important care that we are preparing to provide when we are on this process of preparing for the exam. If you want to be really good at what you're planning to do, you want to be as prepared as possible. Ensuring that you’re building yourself in enough time for all of those things, it really makes a difference. That will speak to you know how you decide to go about your pathways as well. It will help to determine what types of courses - your lactation-specific courses or trainings - you will take.

Whether you take one that is established as “these 90 hours cover everything that could be covered on the exam” or whether you take a 45-hour course that’s going to cover some of that, or maybe you're taking a 20-hour course, or maybe you’re putting the entire thing together with smaller chunks - the main thing is to make sure that you are using the IBLCE outline of topics to understand that the trainings you're getting are actually covering all those topics. Otherwise, when you sit down to study, you may find that you have some big gaps and then you're trying to teach yourself or look things up.

One way to ensure that you are really prepared for whatever lactationspecific training or courses you're taking is to purchase a lactation textbook in advance. Maybe you're enrolling in a course and you know which one they're going to require so that's the book that you're going to buy. Maybe you haven't decided which course to take so you don't know what that course would require. Find a lactation textbook and get familiar with it before you take a course. Read this textbook. Find out how fascinated you really are with lactation. This is the core of what you are going to know. You definitely want to be familiar with this information. You don't want to show up to a course or training or webinar or workshop and just wait for people to put information into you. You want to have a level of knowledge that allows you to interact with the information you receive in that training. You want to be ready to ask questions. You want to be ready to challenge what you hear with what you’ve read, and it will make your experience so much richer when you are already reading. If you end up buying a textbook that's different from what your course is going to require - great, you need those different exposures to different information or the same information presented in multiple ways. This can only help you.

I was going to say something really quick about local options and - full disclosure - I used to teach a local option in my community of a 45 hour-course as well as a 90-hour course. I no longer do that so I don't have any conflict of interest here at this point. I just wanted to talk a little bit about local options. When you are able to take a course that is taught by people who work in your community - that could be your county, it could be your state - you're going to get an experience that is very tailored to the populations you're likely to encounter in that area. You're going to have this additional opportunity to network with these instructors and these people who are putting this course together who have knowledge about what other resources are available in your area. So if that's an option for you, you should really consider that local option. Sometimes it’s not the most well-known option, but as long as you're using your IBLCE outline to be sure that they're covering what you need them to cover. This can be a really great option for you, especially if your particular personal goal is to train and end up practicing in your community - in the community where they are offering that.

When it comes to your mentorship, clinicals, talking about that I covered that a lot in episode 12 of this podcast, so I encourage you to go back and listen to what I had to say about mentorship, why mentoring is important, and why your mentorship experience should be robust. Why even if you are taking Pathway 1 because you are a credentialed or licensed healthcare provider in another area, you should not miss out on the mentoring experiences that you can get. I’m encouraging you to be creative and collaborative in how you find mentorships and how you structure that. I did already mention that once you become an IBCLC, you will want to be involved in mentoring and that you should be involved in your local organizations that care for lactation care providers. I definitely encourage you to be involved for that reason as well if you are pursuing IBCLC training, if you are preparing for the exam, you want to be involved in every group around you that has anything to do with lactation because how else are you going to find people who are going to help in your mentoring process? You need to be connected with local people - even if they are not able to offer you the mentorship experience that you need, they can certainly offer you tips and ideas and advice about that. They might be able to provide a review of something external, something outside the community, something virtual that you're considering. You want those connections to help enrich your training experience.

That brings us to a conversation here that I think is really important: who should not be a lactation care provider. I called this episode frequently asked questions. I'm going to tell you right now, I'm going to admit: that's not a question that people ask, but it’s a question that they should be asking. Here are some things to consider when you are personally considering entering this field or you know someone who is or you are a lactation care provider who is getting this question from other people.

The first thing is you would not want to enter this field - possibly yet or possibly ever - if you continue to be wounded by your own lactation experiences, your unprocessed lactation experiences because when you have tender feelings and emotions about what has happened to you during lactation, this can lead to difficulty with counseling and difficulty with being a really smart lactation care provider who is able to look at everything through the context of what is common and what is rare. In particular that can be a problem if you are holding on to difficult experiences, traumatic lactation experiences of your own.

You should not really be considering being a lactation care provider if you're always looking for loopholes. If your goal is to figure out how you can get through this process as fast as possible, it may not be for you. You may want to think again because there's a reason that this process is designed to take time and that it has a lot of moving parts and pieces that you are ideally supposed to be doing for quite a while before you take the exam.

You shouldn't be pursuing lactation care training if what you're looking for is an extra credential, extra pay, or because maybe your employer told you that you should. It should come from you, not external rewards.

You should not enter this field if you are not interested in learning all the time. You want to be a person who is really looking for more information. If you feel like your training is going to be the end, this is not going to work for you because things change. We learn all the time. We really have to.

You should also not really - you may not be satisfied by this particular career if you prefer your work to have a sense of “everything is done” at the end of your day because that's not how this work goes. That may not be the right way for you to pursue it.

You should not be a lactation care provider if you deep down believe that lactation is a medical situation or a problem that needs to be managed and the only way to manage things is with a this-or-that, if-this-then-that kind of approach, that everything is solvable, and everything is going to appear to you in column one or column two, and it's going to be very simple to say that's the problem, this is what's going on.

Finally, you should not be a lactation care provider who has an agenda of “everyone should breastfeed.” That's not the way to approach the work that we do because there are situations where people should not - but it doesn't matter because it's not about us. It's not about you, it's not about me. It's about the people who are having the baby. We really want to think about those types of mindsets before we start pursuing this kind of training and finding that it feels unsatisfying or it feels like it's taking too long or it feels like how can there be so much to learn. Those are all red flags that maybe this is not the right thing for you.

Now in all fairness, I also want to talk about who should be a lactation care provider and you may be surprised by some of these answers. So I think the first thing is you should be a person who really enjoys getting to know people, connecting with people, treating people with respect and dignity, finding new ways to relate to people, and building relationships.

It should be a person who can't wait to learn more about lactation, about the human body, about science, about everything that this involves.

It should be a person who likes to help people by giving and showing them options and restoring their hope in a process.

It should be a person who believes that you yourself can have a positive impact on the world, possibly because of the obstacles you've overcome, what you've accomplished in your life, and just generally that you're a positive person who can influence others.

It should definitely be a person who enjoys collaboration and teamwork. This is not an isolated, work by yourself kind of thing - we're part of a team.

Finally, it really should be a person who's fascinated by lactation, by science, by babies, by mothers, by fathers, by parents, by the human body. If those things get you excited, then this is the place for you. You are pursuing something which is going to reward you and fulfill you in ways you can't even imagine.

Just returning really quickly to that list of values, you can easily see here where so many of the things that we talked about - physiology as the core, that’s the science part - that's the part that makes it important that your lactation training - your lactation-specific training - is happening in the 5 years before you take the exam. A lot of things about how we treat people: dignity, commitment, empathy, and gratitude - those are things about how we relate to people. Our Global context is what reminds us why this process of preparing to apply to take the IBCLC exam is so robust and has so much flexibility built into it. It is because this is a certification for international work, which means that it’s happening in so many different places and there are so many different ways that this work can be happening and the training can be happening. There's just so much opportunity for things to be thought of on a global level, for learning from one another, learning from different settings, learning from different cultures. Future first and resourcefulness - to me those really speak to the mentoring and the clinical internship part. Future first means we're always training the future of what we do.

Another very common question that we get about entering the lactation field is “Should I be a nurse?” Once people come across the information in a way that helps them to understand that one does not need to be a nurse in order to be a lactation care provider of any kind -you don't need to be a nurse to do those things - then comes the question “Well, should I? Will I get a job if I'm not also a nurse? Do I need to be a nurse? How does that help? How does that hold me back because it's going to take me longer?” I believe the best answer to this question is: if you want to be a nurse, if you want to be a nurse that is a nurse whether or not you are a lactation care provider, then yes, please be a nurse! The world needs more nurses! If you do not want to be a nurse, then you should not be a nurse. No one should become a nurse because they think it's a great sideline to lactation care. You should be a nurse because you want to be a nurse. Many who are in the field today are nurses and lactation care providers will tell you when you hold both of those credentials, both of those trainings, both of those experiences, you will often be called upon to be a nurse first and foremost in a way that can be frustrating for you. Sometimes it's going to be fulfilling for you because if you are a nurse Who Wants To Be A Nurse, you love nursing, you love being a nurse, but if your goal was really just to be a lactation care provider without doing nursing work all the time, you may find yourself in employment situations where they're requiring you to mostly act as a nurse and leave your lactation work to the side. That can be really frustrating, so whether you should or should not be a nurse, that should be a really big part of that decision making process - whether you personally have ever thought to yourself “I’d really like to be a nurse.” If you have, it’s a good time to consider it! The two types of trainings work really well together. Obviously it will extend your timeline a bit because depending on where you're starting in your nursing training, it may take you longer. Some people will choose to pursue the IBCLC credential during the time they're getting their nursing training. Some will do it separately because that's a better learning pathway for them. Think about those things as well. Think about the fact that there are situations where being a nurse may help you with employment, but don't give that more weight than it needs. If you don't want to be a nurse by all means do not. We don't need people who don't really want to do a job doing a job. We want people who have a passion and a fire for that and it's completely possible to have a passion and a fire for being a nurse and being a lactation care provider or being a nurse and being something else. It doesn't mean that you can't be both and passionate about. But if you're not, don't force it, that's all I'm saying about that.

Final question that I wanted to cover today: I talk a lot here about this IBCLC process. Here's the thing: what if you don't want to be an IBCLC? I really do hear the question from people, I really do talk to people about this one - I didn't make this one up just because I want to talk about it! If you don't want to be an IBCLC, if that does not feel like it's necessary - and that's the key to answering this question - what is your mission and purpose? Why do you want to be a lactation care provider? Who are you intending to impact? What is the message that you need to get out there? How do you want your work to change the world? What type of training or certification do you need in order to do that? Is it IBCLC-level? If it is, then, yeah, that's the answer for you, but if it's not, obtaining lactation training and different kinds of certifications may be exactly what you need, that may be exactly the types of connections that you need. The timeframe is going to be shorter, so it can be tempting to say, well, I don't need to be an IBCLC, this is what I need to do and I'm going to do this one as fast as I can. I would encourage you not to do that. I would encourage you no matter what your end goal is with your trainings and your certifications, don't rush the process. You will be better and you will be more confident the longer you take to make things happen. I’m not saying stretch it out for 10 years, but I am saying give yourself the time, space and enrichment activities that you need to truly learn what you need to know to accomplish what that certification is going to do for you.

I would also encourage you to strongly consider, whatever certification or training or pursuing, strongly consider following the IBCLC Guiding Documents about ethics and how we practice. It's a really great framework for making sure that everyone is following the same rules when it comes to how we treat people, what kind of information we know, how do we make ethical decisions. If everyone will just use those standards and that framework in a way that helps them do their work and helps them treat people well, that will make it a little bit easier for them. If you know that you have a framework to look at when you have a hard decision to make, that's going to make it easier. You're going to be able to look it up and say yes, I am on the right track here, yes, that was my gut feeling and this really backs it up. Even if you are not bound to those guiding documents because you are not an IBCLC, strongly consider those as a way of protecting yourself and protecting the public.

Finally, I would say that if you do not intend to pursue IBCLC certification but you're going to be doing lactation work, commit to clearly communicating your level of training and expertise. Don't confuse people more than they already are. Talk about what training you have. This is not to say make 1000 comparisons - talk about what training you do have and what expertise you did accomplish, what have you done to be qualified to help people with what you do. That is really worth saying. If you believe in yourself, if you believe in your training, if you believe in the certification that you achieved, by all means tell people what you did. Tell people what that's about. Explain to them what qualifies you to be helping them or to be providing the service that you're providing to them.

That’s all I have on FAQs for today. I would expect that you probably have some more questions floating around about this entire part of the process. My intention here was to cover some things that I say a lot in person and on webinars and workshops, and people really do ask these questions a lot. I know there's a lot of groups out there where people who want to get involved in the field are hanging out and asking their questions, and I wanted this to be a useful thing that you could refer people to if they're considering entering the field, particularly if you are talking to somebody who you think they need to know a little bit more about what this is like before they think about actually doing it.

I hope that this has been helpful for you and inspiring for you. Please let me know if it was. You can always reach me on Instagram @IBCLCinCA. You can also email me at, and you can find show notes on the website. If this has really been helpful for you and you love this podcast, it would be very helpful for me if you would follow it on whatever podcast app you use to listen to podcasts.

If you'd like to support the podcast I just created a Patreon account and you can find it at, and you can support me and one of several different levels which provide you with additional benefits once you're a supporter. I would love to see you guys there and I would really appreciate your support in making this podcast and bringing this information and these mindset shift out to more people when you support me I can do more so thank you for listening I will be back soon have a wonderful day and thanks for everything you do for parents and babies and families and health!


Listen to Episode 13 here!

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