Lactation Consultant

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A lactation consultant nurse is a nurse that specializes in the clinical management of lactation and breastfeeding.  Lactation consultants are specialists in training mothers how to breastfeed their babies.  The lactation consultant provides the majority of breastfeeding education during the postpartum period but may begin their consultation and education during a woman’s pregnancy.  A lactation consultant provides breastfeeding support, assists with lactation care, and educates patients to overcome obstacles and concerns with breastfeeding.

A lactation consultant can work in many different settings like postpartum hospital units, freestanding birth centers, pediatric offices, and public health clinics.  Some lactation consultants choose to work independently in private practice. Lactation consultants care for women of childbearing age and their newborn babies. A lactation consultant usually works during the day shift, but that may vary depending on where they work.  Some hospital-based lactation consultants will work on holidays and weekends, but will typically be compensated at a higher rate for these shifts.

A lactation consultant is skilled in caring for patients who are experiencing breastfeeding issues like painful nursing, decreased milk production, latching difficulties, and babies with low weight gain. The lactation consultant works closely with the patient to understand how to latch their baby to the breast, the various breastfeeding positions, and how to tell if a baby is transferring and drinking enough milk.  Lactation consultants are familiar with breast pumping equipment that assists with babies who are unable to transfer milk or moms who must return to work or be separated from their child.  They also give mothers breast milk storage tips, tips for how to deal with painful and cracked nipples, and how to make sure their baby is getting enough milk.

Lactation consultants must be familiar with chronic and acute conditions and if there are any implications with breastfeeding a newborn baby.  A lactation consultant must possess a considerable range of knowledge regarding the compatibility of medications with breastfeeding.  Hence, lactation consultants must possess a broad range of clinical knowledge and when to appropriately refer a client.  A lactation consultant can make or break the difference in a breastfeeding relationship between mom and baby.  They are compassionate, patient, and empowering.

Education Requirements

It is not necessary to become a healthcare professional to become a lactation consultant.  In fact, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is the most revered certification for a lactation consultant. In order to become an IBCLC, you must meet the standards set for health sciences education, lactation education, and practical clinical experience.  Prospective IBCLCs must take courses in 14 comprehensive health science subjects.  Nurses may be exempt from these requirements.  

There are many benefits to becoming a nurse prior to becoming a lactation consultant.  If you choose to follow this route, you must first obtain a nursing degree from an accredited nursing program.  In order to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), you can pursue a one to two-year program.  If you choose to become a Registered Nurse (RN), you should attend an Associate Degree program (two years) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) that takes four years. After graduating from nursing school, you must take the NCLEX-RN exam to become licensed as a nurse.  The last step is to apply to the Board of Nursing in your state to become an RN.  Regardless of how you become a lactation consultant, continuing breastfeeding education ensures that your breastfeeding management education remains fresh.

 

Certification

Certification for lactation consultants differs from typical nursing certifications because only some Registered Nurses choose to become a Certified in their specialty. All lactation consultants receive a specific education prior to practicing as a lactation consultant. A lactation consultant must adhere to strict education and clinical experience guidelines to pursue the certification to become an IBCLC, which is given by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). An IBCLC is a healthcare professional that specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding.

To take the IBCLC exam, you must follow one of the above-discussed tracks of study.  In order to become a Registered Nurse IBCLC, you must have:

  • Undergo specified coursework in 14 different subjects or be a Healthcare professional who is exempt,
  • A minimum of 1000 clinical practice hours working with breastfeeding mothers or spend 300 supervised hours with clinical breastfeeding experience.
  • 90 hours of lactation education

Regardless of the path you choose, you are able to sit for the certification exam once you have met those qualifications.  The IBCLC certification exam validates you as an IBCLC for five years.  You can achieve recertification by completing continuing education.  IBCLCs must retake the certification exam every ten years.

Job Description & Duties

A lactation consultant performs important responsibilities in the clinical management of breastfeeding.  The description of a lactation consultant is usually fairly consistent but may vary depending on your practice setting.

  • Assess breastfeeding sessions including the newborn’s latch, milk transfer, and position.
  • Assess newborn for adequate milk intake, appropriate weight gain, and jaundice.
  • Educate the patient about breastfeeding techniques, breast pumping methods, and breast milk storage.
  • Educate patient about baby feeding cues, normal stools, and feeding concerns.
  • Assist with troubleshooting for painful latch or nipples, poor milk transfer, or breast refusal.
  • Provide referrals for babies with poor weight gain, observed tongue and lip tie, and any medical newborn conditions.
  • Provide breastfeeding support, encouragement, and care for postpartum patients.
  • Educate mom how to record newborn feeding schedule and wet and dirty diapers.

Job Outlook and Salary

The median annual salary for a Lactation Consultant is $79,161 with a range from $70,514 to $88,770. However, this can vary widely depending on a variety of factors like your job description, your workplace setting, and your location.  The United States and the World Health Organization set goals that more women would be breastfeeding by 2020, in organized guidelines like Healthy People 2020.  The need for lactation consultants to guide these newly breastfeeding women will increase.

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