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February 25, 2020
The first few weeks (or even months) of breastfeeding can be very difficult. And it’s no wonder. When else have you been expected to do something like this without any way to practice beforehand? Well the good news is that there’s a whole industry built around helping you achieve your breastfeeding goals. You may have heard the terms lactation consultant, CLC, and IBCLC, but what do they mean? How do you choose one?
A lactation consultant is a general (and unregulated) term for someone who helps with breastfeeding. While it is often used as an umbrella term that covers many qualified and knowledgeable professionals, it’s important to note that anyone can call themselves a lactation consultant, and they may not have had any formal training. This might not be important for you, though, if you’re just looking for someone to tell you you’re doing a great job (you are) or tell you it’s okay to stop (it is).
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, you may decide to see someone who’s knowledgeable and experienced for help. The two most common certifications for lactation consulting are CLC and IBCLC.
A Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) is someone who has completed 52 hours of training and passed a certification exam.
An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) has completed 90 hours of training, 300-1000 hours of clinical practice, extensive health science coursework, and passed a certification exam.
There are also more advanced certifications, including ALC and ALNC. However, these are far less common than CLCs and IBCLCs.
Officially, the biggest difference between the two is the clinical practice hours that are required for IBCLCs. Because of this requirement and the educational requirements of IBCLC certification, they tend to attract slightly different types of professionals. IBCLCs may be more likely to come from a clinical or academic background (physicians and registered nurses, for example), and CLCs may tend to be more holistic-minded (registered midwives, doulas, etc). In practice, someone’s style might be more important to you than their training or experience.
In addition, practical considerations like cost, location, and insurance may be big factors. Many health insurance plans cover lactation services, so it’s smart to call your insurance company to learn about your specific benefits. If the lactation consultant is not in-network with any insurance companies, you can ask if they provide a “super-bill” that you can then submit for reimbursement. Sometimes home visits are covered, so many lactation consultants offer this service.
Both IBCLCs and CLCs are trained to help with a wide variety of breastfeeding challenges. Some common issues include latching, breastfeeding holds, tongue-tie, milk supply, and plugged ducts. In addition, they can help you develop a plan for pumping and returning to work.
Related: How to get rid of plugged milk ducts and prevent them from happening
You can see a lactation consultant for pretty much any breastfeeding or lactation-related question. However, if you have symptoms of mastitis, you should call your doctor, as antibiotics may be necessary.
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