Deciding Which IBCLC Pathway is Right for You

There are currently three available Pathways to becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), but only you can determine which Pathway works for you and your situation. When choosing between Pathways 1, 2, and 3, you must consider your current role and to whom you have access. Depending on your location, you may not have access to an IBCLC nearby who is able or willing to mentor you.

For people located outside of the United States, Pathways 1 and 3 are currently the only options.

Pathway 3

Pathway 3 involves a mentorship with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. If you go the Pathway 3 route, a minimum of 95 lactation-specific education hours will be required, which must include five hours of education focused on building your patient communication skills. You will also need a minimum of 500 hours of directly supervised clinical practice that is lactation specific. You should complete all of these requirements within the five years leading up to your exam application. It is important to note that the IBCLC(s) who serve as your mentor(s) must be currently certified IBCLCs and in good standing with the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.

Before beginning a mentorship with a certified IBCLC, there is a Pathway 3 Application you must fill out and submit to IBLCE. In addition to completing the mentorship application with you, the mentor must also fill out and submit the Mentorship Agreement Form. You will then track your hours in a log provided by IBLCE. When you apply to LiquidGoldConcept’s Pathway 3 Global Mentorship Program we help you through this process every step of the way.

Pathway 2

This Pathway requires you to complete a comprehensive academic program in human lactation and breastfeeding accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) or another accrediting body with equivalent accreditation standards. These programs are university- or college-based and include both didactic and clinical components and require health sciences education, whether as a prerequisite or as education, before completing the academic program.

These programs must contain a minimum of 95 hours of lactation-specific education, including five hours with a communication skills focus, within the five years immediately before examination application. They must also provide a minimum of 300 hours of directly supervised lactation-specific clinical practice within the five years immediately leading up to examination application.

Pathway 1

For those who work in a recognized health profession and/or are a Recognized Breastfeeding Support Counselor, this may be the Pathway for you.

Pathway 1 requires you to obtain a minimum of 1000 hours of lactation-specific clinical practice in an appropriate supervised setting within five years of applying for the exam through the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBCLE). These settings can include a hospital, birth center, community clinic, lactation care clinic/practice, or a primary care practitioner’s practice/office. For licensed/registered healthcare professionals in non-healthcare settings, you have the option to earn clinical practice hours through independent practice. If you do work in a recognized healthcare profession, this will automatically satisfy the 14 health science course requirements listed below under Pathway 3.

If you do not work in one, you can still earn your clinical practice hours through an approved organization as a Recognized Breastfeeding Support Counselor (RBSC). To earn hours as an RBSC, you must be a member of one of the following recognized by IBLCE. 

Recognized Healthcare Professions Include:

  • Dentist
  • Dietician
  • Midwife
  • Nurse
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Pharmacist
  • Physical Therapist of Physiotherapist
  • Physician or Medical Doctor
  • Speech Pathologist or Therpist
IBLCE Recognized Healthcare Professions IBCLC Pathway 1 and 2

IBLCE Approved Organizations:

  • Hospital
  • Birth Center
  • Community Clinic
  • Lactation Care Clinic/Practice
  • Primary Care Practitioner’s Practice/Office

Through January 2022, hours are given at a flat rate per year and starting next year will be counted on an hour-per-hour basis.

IBLCE Approved Organizations IBCLC Pathway 1

What Are the 14 Health Sciences Requirements?

For someone who is not working in a role that IBCLE considers a recognized health profession, fourteen health sciences courses are a prerequisite for applying to sit the IBLCE exam. IBCLC Pathway and program requirements vary, including on whether your health sciences courses must be complete before you begin your Pathway. However, we suggest that you finish these courses first to provide a solid knowledge base upon which to build. Eight of these courses must be a minimum of one academic credit session (e.g., semester, trimester, quarter, etc.) in length and provided by an accredited higher learning institution. You need to obtain a passing grade in all courses listed.

These Eight Heath Science Courses Include:

  • Biology
  • Human Anatomy
  • Human Physiology
  • Infant and Child Growth and Development
  • Introduction to Clinical Research
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology or Counselling Skills or Communication Skills
  • Sociology or Cultural Sensitivity or Cultural Anthropology

Higher learning institutions may offer the remaining six subjects, or they may be continuing education courses. 

8 Health Sciences Courses - all IBCLC Pathways

These Six Health Sciences Courses Include:

  • Basic Life Support
  • Medical Documentation
  • Medical Terminology
  • Occupational Safety and Security for Health Professionals
  • Professional Ethics for Health Professionals
  • Universal Safety Precautions and Infection Control

What percentage or metric is considered a passing grade will be determined by the institution at which you complete your courses. These courses are valid regardless of when they were finished and are not restricted to the five years leading up to your exam application like the other requirements.

6 Additional Health Sciences Courses - all IBCLC Pathways

90 Hours of Lactation Education

The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners as an entity does not offer any education. It is up to you to obtain these required hours elsewhere. IBLCE does, however, approve your education plan if you decide to elect IBCLC Pathway 3 as your course of study. Additionally, IBLCE states that “the education must be about breastfeeding or human lactation, preferably following along with the Detailed Content Outline.” Your courses must be completed within the five years leading up to your exam application.

5 Required Communication Hours

As of the Spring 2021 exam, you are also required to complete five hours of communication skills. While these can be any communication course hours you would like, we recommend that these hours involve lactation and breast/chest feeding-based communication skills. These five hours are only good for the five years before applying to sit the exam.

IBLCE Exam Information

The IBLCE exam is currently offered twice a year in English in April and September. The fall exam, which is in or around September each year, is offered in other languages. The IBCLC exam is about four hours long and is broken into two parts. Exam application windows are open twice a year in the spring and the fall. To sit the fall exam, you must apply in the spring and sit the spring exam. The same applies to the fall. It is important to note that approximately 30% of exam applicants get audited. If you happen to be one of them, you will have ten (10) business days to prove that you have completed all the requirements to sit the exam.

Generally, the exam will consist of approximately 175 multiple choice questions following the IBCLE’s Detailed Content Outline. If you do not pass the exam on your first try for some reason, you are eligible to receive a 50% discount on up to three subsequent exams over the following three years.

Other Lactation Credentials That Are Available

Many other lactation credentials can be earned, should you wish to do so. To date, IBCLCs are considered the gold standard of lactation consultants. Different breastfeeding and lactation credentials are considered “stepping stone credentials” and are often obtained in working toward your IBCLC certification. These credentials vary in their requirements and content.

Some Commonly Known Lactation Credentials Include:

  • International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
  • Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC)
  • Certified Breastfeeding Educator (CBE)
  • Certified Lactation Consultant (CLC)
  • Certified Advanced Lactation Consultant (CALC)
  • Certified Advanced Lactation Specialist (cALS)

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