Breastfeeding can be very difficult, especially in the first few weeks (sometimes, months). It can feel daunting, discouraging and draining at times.
The good news is that there are professionals out there ready to help. A common question among new moms is what roles lactation counselors and lactation consultants play in achieving their breastfeeding goals.
Learning the lingo
CBC=Certified Breastfeeding Counselor
CLC=Certified Lactation Counselor (or consultant depending on the organization)
You might also see lactation specialists referred to as a Breastfeeding Peer Supporter or a Lactation Specialist.
Whew! Okay, on to some specifics.
Certified Lactation Counselors
In general, lactation counselors (and specialists and educators) help moms establish good milk supply, offer guidance on optimal breastfeeding positions, tips on latching and instructions on how to pump.
Counselors have completed training that specializes in providing lactation support to families. They may or may not be certified. Training courses vary in length among organizations. There are some that include 90 hours or more of education, and others that are closer to the 45-hour or less mark.
Using the CBI Lactation Counselor Course as an example, their program includes 130 hours of lactation-specific education—covering everything from communication and counseling skills to understanding the physiology in relation to lactation.
International BoardCertified Lactation Consultants
CLCs have obtained both training and certification, in which there’s a prerequisite of clinical practice hours. These International Board Certified Lactation Consultants have completed:
90 hours of lactation-specific training (within the 5 years before completing the exam)
300-1000 clinical hours supporting lactation
one academic semester in high science courses (nurses, midwives and doctors are exempt)
six continuing education health courses
at least 5 hours in communication skills
the closed book exam of 175 multiple choice answers
Similarities and differences between the two
The main differences between a lactation counselor and a lactation consultant come down to specifics: the amount of relevant experience and health science education they have completed and the quality of those courses.
Lactation counselors and consultants can support parents with their lactation challenges, run lactation classes and support groups, educate on lactation, develop a feeding plan along with the baby’s parents, and provide clients with referrals to doctors and other medical professions. Some might work in hospitals, clinics or in private practice.
Both are equipped to help parents better understand whether their baby is transferring milk, as well as educating them on why this might be happening. They are there to support, educate and empower.
**To note, neither a Lactation Counselor nor a Lactation Consultant can give medical advice or medical diagnosis, prescribe medication or perform medical treatment.
Finding the right fit for your family
As with any doctor or therapist, usually the best fit is someone who you feel comfortable with, and who you truly trust. IBCLCs tend to come from a clinical background—many are doctors and registered nurses—while CLCs are usually more holistic-minded (think registered midwives and doulas).
If you’re more academic minded and feel better in the hands of someone with extensive certification, then an IBCLC might be the best fit. Those who value a more nurturing approach may find themselves gravitating more toward a counselor.
Cost, location and your health insurance policy are other factors to consider. Depending on your health insurance plan, some lactation services may be covered, including home visits. For out-of-network consultants and counselors, check with your insurance about partial reimbursement.
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