Lactation consultants often have an alphabet soup of initials following their name. These are often their certifications. There are IBCLC’s, CLC’s, ALC, ANLC, CLS, CLE, and probably some that I don’t even know about.
Within those individual certifications, there can be different pathways to obtain the certification. The requirements for the certifications can change. When I became certified as an IBCLC (International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant) I had to acquire 2500 hours of breastfeeding help. Now, the requirements vary from 500-1000 hours. Every IBCLC has to sit for an exam, re-certify every 5 years, and every 10 years that recertification must be by exam.
A CLC is a certified lactation counselor, and there are different ways to be eligible to sit for that exam. I worked with a CLC for many years who took the five-day course, which culminated in an open-book exam. She passed the exam and then could call herself a CLC, forever. Those requirements have now changed, and recertification through contact hours or exam is now required every 3 years. Unless you know when those requirements changed, and ask the consultant when she got certified, you won’t know if that person ever took another lactation workshop or course ever again.
I know of a medical assistant who took the CLC course described above and then began doing consults in the physician’s office where she worked. She had never worked with breastfeeding moms before that. I also know of a certified lactation consultant who was certified by a very comprehensive program that no longer exists. She is very experienced, has great skills and the moms she works with love her.
An ALC is an Advanced Lactation Consultant. ANLC is an Advanced Nurse Lactation Consultant. A CLS is a Certified Lactation Specialist. And a CLE is a Certified Lactation Educator.
As a consumer, it can be very difficult to determine if someone is qualified to provide the help you are seeking. You can ask what their certification is, but you really need to know more than about the letters after their name.
Letters Matter, but so do Numbers
What do you need to know?
- What kind of certification do they have? If they are an IBCLC, it doesn’t assure you that they will be a good lactation
consultant, but it lets you know they have experience working with breastfeeding moms, have taken a lot of hours of breastfeeding continuing ed, and have passed an exam. You know a CLC has passed an exam
- Ask what kind of training they went through to become an LC. Ask them how much experience they had with breastfeeding moms before they became an LC, and how much experience they have had since.
- Ask what kind of experience they have. Do they primarily work with moms and babies in the hospital, newborns after discharge, older babies, or a range of ages? I personally have found that the most challenging work I do is with my breastfeeding support group. I never know what ages of babies will be there, or what the questions and problems will be presented to me. It is often a range of both. An LC has to have a lot of experience to successfully facilitate that.
- Have they ever mentored anyone? It usually requires someone with a lot of experience to be able to mentor students and aspiring LC’s.
- If you can ask friends what their experience with this LC was, that’s always helpful. Don’t be put off by one negative report. Some people are loved by everyone, but most LC’s have at least one client that they didn’t connect with.
- If you require insurance coverage, get all the information you need from your insurance to determine if the consult will be covered by the person you choose.
- Ask the LC how much time they allow for a consult. I personally allow two hours. It doesn’t always take that much time, but I can’t imagine trying to rush a mom who has a complex problem out the door because someone else is waiting.
- What should ask if you have to see someone at the hospital because you financially need insurance to cover it? You ask about experience and you find out if the LC you are scheduled to see is very new. Does that mean she won’t be able to help you? Not at all. Ask what kind of back-up she has? Find out how many consults she has observed. Remember, we all had to start somewhere. When I mentor a new LC, I have her watch me a couple of times, then I watch her a couple of times, or as many I need to feel confident. When I let her do a consult on her own, I am in the room, on the other side of the curtain and if I hear something concerning, or she just wants some eyes on the situation, I am right there. New doesn’t always mean a bad thing. I feel really good about the abilities of all the LC’s I have mentored.
One Last Though:
Not everyone has choices when it comes to the breastfeeding help they get. However, if you do, try to find someone who is a good match for you. Try to do this before you give birth. I mentioned in a previous post that it’s good to have at least two consultants lined up. I also can’t emphasize enough that if you don’t connect with the LC you have chosen, try to find another one.
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