In Honor of IBCLC day, March 6th 2013, I decided to explore the reasons why I chose to become an IBCLC, though there are easier and less costly pathways to providing professional breastfeeding support.
I had already been an active La Leche League volunteer leader for nearly 12 years when I decided that I wanted to extend my services to include professional breastfeeding support. I knew that I had acquired a lot of the experience and knowledge needed through my volunteer work. I had dedicated thousands of hours to learning about and supporting breastfeeding. I had helped several hundred parents overcome breastfeeding difficulties and realize their breastfeeding goals. I did not believe, however, that this was adequate training to provide professional breastfeeding services.
Most parents do not need professional breastfeeding support. Their needs can be filled with the help of knowledgeable volunteers such as La Leche League leaders, WIC peer counselors, certified lactation counselors, Breastfeeding USA counselors, and other experienced breastfeeding parents. Midwives, doulas, physicians and nurses can also provide valuable breastfeeding assistance while working in their capacity as health care providers. All of these breastfeeding supporters can help parents initiate and continue a breastfeeding relationship in the normal course of uncomplicated breastfeeding, but I believe that parents, who want professional breastfeeding support, deserve nothing less than the expertise of the IBCLC.
Small problems can mask larger issues and can become breastfeeding obstacles if they are mismanaged. If a parent is ready to take the step of hiring professional breastfeeding help, they need the provider to have a comprehensive understanding of normal lactation and the extensive clinical experience needed to recognize when a breastfeeding issue deviates from the many variations of normal. Anything less can undermine the success of a breastfeeding relationship.
As I began working toward my required hours of lactation specific education, I realized how much I still had to learn about helping parents to breastfeed under difficult circumstances. Earning the IBCLC credential was expensive and time consuming but I knew that it ensured an excellent quality of breastfeeding support. There are many programs that can provide breastfeeding education but only the IBCLC credential ensures a minimum of educational and clinical hours while also requiring continued education to maintain. Candidates currently must have 90 hours of lactation specific education and 1000 hours of supervised clinical experience to even be qualified to sit for the exam. IBCLCs recertify every 5 years through 75 hours of approved continuing education and every 10 years by repeated examination. This is an expense that ranges from $470-$1000+ every 5 years.
IBCLCs must follow a code of professional conduct and stay within their scope of practice. IBCLCs have and maintain clinical competencies in maternal and infant anatomy, physiology, endocrinology, nutrition, biochemistry and immunology. They must have knowledge of infectious disease, pathology, pharmacology, toxicology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and public health. They must also have an understanding of ethical and legal issues and the ability to interpret research as well as having knowledge of infant growth parameters, child development, and how to use breastfeeding equipment, technology and techniques. An IBCLC is an allied health care professional who must obtain consent to treat, follow HIPAA guidelines and provide comprehensive reports to families’ health care providers. All of these requirements ensure that the IBCLC has the skills to help parents and babies have the best possible opportunity to meet their breastfeeding goals. This makes the IBCLC the gold standard in lactation support. Nothing less would satisfy my desire to provide the best possible care for parents and babies.
I am glad that I chose this path. Acquiring the IBCLC certification taught me how much I still need to learn in order to best serve breastfeeding parents and babies. Maintaining my certification encourages me to continue to strive for excellence.
©2013 Laura Spitzfaden, LLLL, IBCLC