How and Why I’m Becoming an IBCLC

I’ve received a lot of questions on how to become an IBCLC and why I’d want to put in the time and effort for something that might be hard to use as a pharmacist, so I thought I would sum it all up in one blog post.

I think it’s important to first understand I am a forever learner and a “can’t stop won’t stop” kind of person. Past history proves it. I have a B.S. in Chemistry with a concentration in Medicinal Chemistry and a Doctorate of Pharmacy. I’ve always been involved in organizations and often a leader of some sort - drum major in marching band in high school, involved in my chemistry club in undergrad, president of a pharmacy organization in pharmacy school, and a top performer at work. This calendar year alone, I’m taking a year-long herbal medicine program, pursuing a board certification, and completing intern hours to sit for the IBCLC exam. It was kind of ridiculous for me to think, “I’m done with school once I graduate” but I held onto that belief for almost 4 years after graduating. Carmenella, my daughter, was born, and my whole career path shifted, so now I’m back to learning. I’ve finally accepted that this is the kind of person I am and have embraced it.

It’s also important to understand the different levels of lactation certification. Sometimes lactation happens without a problem and individuals just want to be around other people feeding their babies breastmilk. A peer support group is great for this situation, whether it’s a La Leche League meeting or a group at the hospital. Sometimes you have a huge list of factors going against your success at lactating or you stopped lactating and want to relactate - then you need an IBCLC. Most of us fall in the middle somewhere, so you need all levels of lactation support for lactation as a whole to be successful. Each level has different requirements to become certified, and each level has a different time, energy, and financial requirement. I’ll post a link to a comprehensive chart that details the different levels of lactation certification in the References section below.

So the IBCLC - what is that? “IBCLC” stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. I like to think of IBCLCs as the “doctor” of lactation, because it is the highest lactation certification you can earn. This certification allows you to clinically manage lactation problems as well as help lactating individuals in addition to all other ways of helping lactating individuals. In a nut shell, it requires completion of at least 14 health sciences subjects (or be a recognized health professional), at least 90 hours of lactation-specific education, and 300-1000 clinical intern hours depending on the pathway you take. All these requirements must be completed before you apply for the exam, and you have to apply for the exam 6 months prior to taking the exam. You have 5 years to meet the requirements and take the exam. It’s a daunting task to become an IBCLC no matter what pathway you follow and obtaining the clinical experience is probably the hardest part. I’m working with an IBCLC as well as going through a recognized breastfeeding support counselor organization to obtain my clinical hours. It’ll be another 2-3 years before I have all the clinical hours needed before I can apply to sit for the exam.

Then why become an IBCLC? How will I use this certification? I would argue that many pharmacists should have some level of lactation certification. Pharmacists, especially community pharmacists like myself, are the most accessible healthcare professional. You can simply walk up to a pharmacy or call the pharmacy and ask to speak to a pharmacist. Little waiting, no copays, and generally good recommendations for whatever you asked about. I help lactating individuals All. The. Time. I can tell you what is safe to take when you have sinus congestion. I can counsel on your new anti-anxiety medication for postpartum anxiety and reassure you that your baby won’t be harmed. I can tell you that your doctor is wrong, antibiotics are safe while lactating and you need to take care of yourself in order to support your family. I can tell you that your new blood pressure medication for pre-eclampsia is safe for all three of you - yourself, your unborn child, and the child you are nursing. I can help you navigate the scary world of a cancer diagnosis and what that means to your lactation journey. I can explain why and how a medication is safe for you better than anyone else can, because I went to professional school for four years and learned only about medications and the disease states they treat. These are all real life examples of how I’ve helped lactating individuals as a pharmacist. I want to become an IBCLC, because I want to help lactating individuals beyond their medications. I want to help with other parts of their lactating journey. I also strongly believe that I need to have the IBCLC certification to have a significant impact on other healthcare professionals. I want to help educate providers and change how they treat their lactating patients so these same patients don’t come to my pharmacy counter, afraid to pick up and take their needed medication. I want factual, research-based information to be given out regarding medications and lactation instead of the standard “you need to pump and dump for 24 hours” crap. 

If you’re interested in becoming any type of lactation support person, I’d be happy to go into more detail on what my path has looked like so far. I’d love to help you figure out what is doable for you and how to accomplish it. I’ve included a few links at the bottom to explain the IBCLC certification more and other levels of certification. 

References:

1) United States Lactation Consultant Association: Who’s Who in Lactation

2) International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners: IBCLC Certification

3) International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners: Recognized Breastfeeding Support Counsellor Organizations for IBCLC Certification 

4) Certified Lactation Counselor Certification: Health Children Project, Inc.

Copyright 2019, The Lactation Pharmacist

“No pictures, please! I’m eating here!” - Carmenella 2016 or 2017 (mom brain)

“No pictures, please! I’m eating here!” - Carmenella 2016 or 2017 (mom brain)