How to Become a Lactation Consultant

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Make a Difference for Mothers and Babies

If you are passionate about mothers and babies and believe that breastfeeding is important to a positive start to life, working as a lactation consultant could make for a meaningful career. As you watch the mother-baby duo overcome obstacles to health and nursing, a sense of fulfillment is sure to follow. Lactation consultants sometimes work long or odd shifts, so solid family support and reliable childcare make this career possible while you are raising your own little ones.

Job Description

Lactation consultants help new mothers and babies develop a healthy nursing relationship and troubleshoot problems as they arise. They show mothers what a good latch looks like, help to position the baby and educate moms about things like breast pumps or supplemental feeding systems, as needed.

Lactation consultants might perform weight checks to make sure that the baby is getting enough milk to thrive and grow. Lactation consultants often offer breastfeeding courses to expectant parents, and they sometimes offer informational seminars and classes to the public.

In hospital settings, they sometimes work overnight shifts on the maternity ward and experience several days in a row with long shifts, followed by a few days off.

Lactation consultants who work out of physician offices are likely to have more predictable daytime hours, which could be a better fit for those with kids in school.

Education Requirements

While it is not necessary to be a registered nurse to be a lactation consultant, most employers look for lactation consultants who are both registered nurses and certified as International Board Certified Lactation Consultants. This means you need your high school diploma or the equivalent, followed by a two- or four-year nursing degree that prepares you to pass the nursing licensing exam.

To become IBCLC-certified, you must complete 90 hours of lactation coursework, perform 1,000 hours of supervised clinical hours with mothers and babies, pass an exam and then keep up with continuing education requirements to maintain your board certification.

The median annual salary for lactation consultants is $79,007, which means that half of consultants earn more than this and the other half earn less. This is higher than for nurses in general, as their median annual salary is $68,450. The top 10 percent of lactation consultants earn more than $97,341, while the bottom 10 percent earn less than $62,530.

About the Industry

Lactation consultants work in hospitals, physician offices, government offices or private practice. Hospitals need lactation consultants to help care for every mother-baby duo they serve. Pediatric, obstetric and midwifery offices sometimes employ lactation consultants as a service to the women they serve. Government offices employ lactation consultants through their Women, Infants and Children programs to help low-income mothers have the best support possible as they begin and maintain their breastfeeding relationship. Those in private practice might work in an office, out of their homes or even offer house calls to new mothers.

Years of Experience

Lactation consultants earn a good salary, even when they are new to the field, and salary does increase somewhat with experience. One projection looks like this:

  • 1 to 2 years: $73,343 to $78,363
  • 3 to 4 years: $76,432 to $81,442
  • 5 to 6 years: $78,363 to $83,734
  • 7 or more years: $79,007 to $84,450

Job Growth Trend

In the United States, 79.2 percent of mothers breastfeed their babies at some point, which is higher than in 1995, when only 60 percent breastfed their babies. This percentage has increased at a steady rate over several decades, which has increased the demand for lactation consultants. By 2020, 81.9 percent of infants are expected to be breastfed, and each of those mother-baby pairs can benefit by seeing a lactation consultant in the hospital, birthing center or physician's office or at home.