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Professional Breastfeeding Support in the Community

September 2020

One of the most important resources for your facility and your breastfeeding families is your local International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).  Overseen by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, the IBCLC is considered the Gold Standard in clinical lactation care. Here is a bit of history for the IBCLC:

mother-baby arms

The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®) was founded in March 1985 using a $40,000 loan from La Leche League International as start-up funding. IBLCE’s founding was in response to the need for standards in the emerging profession of lactation consulting. This new profession had arisen during the 1970’s and 80’s in response to the need and request from mothers for specialized breastfeeding care. During this same time period, there was an increasing body of published information about the benefits of breastfeeding and mother support organisations, such as La Leche League International and the Nursing Mothers Association of Australia (now the Australian Breastfeeding Association), had developed and were utilizing an extensive repertoire of breastfeeding management skills.

These factors of consumer demand, scientific evidence and practical clinical skills converged to create an ideal climate for the new profession and for standards that demonstrate the practitioner’s knowledge and skill to practice in the field of lactation consulting. At about the same time, the National Commission for Health Certifying Agencies (NCHCA) was launched with a grant given by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department. NCHCA was founded with the goal of establishing self-regulation in the health care industry and its mission was to establish stringent guidelines for health certifying organizations and accredit those certification programs that met these guidelines. In 1994, NCHCA changed its named and became the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

IBLCE utilized the NCCA accreditation standards from its inception and is one of only a few certifying organisations whose program was accredited by NCCA on its first application in the late 1980’s. IBLCE has been continuously accredited by NCCA since that time and is a non-profit 501(c)(6) certification board governed by a Board of Directors and incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia, USA.

Today, the IBLCE Board comprises professionals from all over the world, representing approximately 32,500 IBCLCs in 122 countries and territories.

How can your local IBCLC assist your breastfeeding families? Skilled at providing evidence-based lactation management, the IBCLC is a part of the allied healthcare team. Other healthcare professionals (HCP) such as obstetricians, pediatricians, midwives, pediatric dentists, language and speech pathologists, and chiropractors rely on the expertise of the IBCLC to assist their clients. As well, IBCLCs frequently refer back to and work with those providers. The IBCLC is able to assess, manage, and support the breastfeeding relationship, no matter how complicated, for anyone who reaches out or is referred to them.

Why is the IBCLC considered the Gold Standard in lactation care? The Code of Professional Conduct for IBCLCs, the Scope of Practice for IBCLCs, and the Clinical Competencies for the Practice of IBCLCs provide guidance for the profession. To become an IBCLC, educational requirements include 14 health science courses and 90 hours of lactation education. Three different pathways allow access to the exam process, depending on your current practice. Pathway One is for recognized (by IBLCE) health providers or recognized breastfeeding support counsellors. At least 1000 hours of clinical lactation care is needed prior to sitting the exam as well as the 90 hours of lactation specific education. Pathway Two is for those who have completed a recognized lactation academic program and includes a minimum of 300 hours of directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice under the direction of a currently certified IBCLC. Pathway Three includes the 90 hours of lactation specific education and a minimum of 500 hours of directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice under the direction of a currently certified IBCLC.

All Pathway requirements must be met in the five years prior to sitting the exam, which is given twice a year. Both times, the exam will be in English; however, only in the October exam will other languages be available for the exam format. Those who pass the exam can use the IBCLC credentials and must recertify every five years.

There are even more details at the IBLCE website, provided below. As you can see, these requirements take several years to obtain…this is not a quick or easy process. It seems only those with a true passion for assisting the breastfeeding family pursue this complicated endeavor to be an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

Seek out your local IBCLCs to find out how they can help your facility and the families you’ve worked with. Get them involved with your Baby-Friendly Committee. Everyone benefits in this type of relationship.

Stay safe and thank you for supporting, promoting, and protecting breastfeeding!


Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, RN, IBCLC, FILCA CHC

Professional Development Educator

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


1. https://www.iblce.org
2. https://www.ilca.org

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Last Updated: September 2018