Guest Author - Nicki Heskin
A lactation educator is a breastfeeding support professional that is trained to assist women with the normal course of breastfeeding. Educators are trained to teach breastfeeding classes, run breastfeeding support groups and provide general training and counseling on breastfeeding. Lactation Educators are not IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants), who have additional training in many breastfeeding issues and are certified to do more complex one-on-one clinical consulting.
Attending a class or support group run by a well-trained lactation educator can be a great choice as they specialize in this sort of contact with mothers. Lactation educators can offer assistance with learning or fine-tuning positioning and latch to avoid or correct sore nipples. They can also assist with supporting mothers with common breastfeeding concerns or counsel and support mothers on the return to work or school or other breastfeeding issues. Educators are trained to refer to IBCLCs for more complex issues and are generally familiar with resources in their area.
How are Lactation Educators Certified?
Technically, lactation educators are not certified, as there is no central certifying organization for this title, but they receive certificates from an awarding institution for the completion of an appropriate program. Most lactation educator programs involve 40-45 hours of classroom instruction, in-person or online. Many, although not all programs, involve homework assignments in addition to those hours and/or a clinical observation component. Depending on the organization offering the educator course (some well-known programs include UCSD, UCLA, Healthy Children's Center for Breastfeeding and CAPPA), initials used by educators may vary. Some common iterations include LE, CLE, CLEC and CLC.
Many lactation educators are also maternity nurses or medical professionals working at hospitals or postpartum centers who are seeking specialized training in breastfeeding to support their current responsibilities. WIC staff or breastfeeding peer counselors may also take lactation educator programs to support WIC participants. However, a lactation educator may also be any interested individual wanting to receive training to support breastfeeding mothers through independent classes, support groups and/or private practice counseling.
It's important to understand the difference between IBCLCs and lactation educators. In general, a lactation educator has completed a formal program culminating in this certificate. In some cases, the classroom training received by educators is the same course required for the classroom component of the IBCLC certification, and some lactation educators may be in the process of pursuing the IBCLC certification. However, the initials IBCLC also indicate an immense amount of clinical training not required of educators, experience with complex breastfeeding situations and successful completion of the IBCLC exam given each year by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). Only an IBCLC can rightfully use those initials on business cards and other identifying materials.
Lactation educators can be a great resource for nursing women. Many early breastfeeding problems can be avoided or solved through education or one-on-one instruction in positioning, latch and good breastfeeding practices – all of which educators are trained to provide. When necessary, lactation educators should be able to refer breastfeeding mothers to IBCLCs for additional support.