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What you need to know about lactation support: IBCLC, CLC, CLE, CBS, LLL, or XYZ

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Updates: This article was written before I became an officially became an IBCLC! If IBCLC support is right for you and you need an IBCLC today, contact me to set up a virtual lactation consultant!


We push breastfeeding eduction and support. We tell you to find a support team that is educated and informed and competent. But then everyone says, "See a lactation consultant". As a LLL leader, Certified Breastfeeding Specialist, and overall boob enthusiast, I have been referred to as a "Lactation Consultant". I have heard nurses referred to as "Lactation Consultants". I've heard the peer counselors at WIC referred to as "Lactation Consultants". I have heard a random mom on facebook referred to as a "Lactation Consultant". I have heard CLCs definitely get confused with "Lactation Consultants" over and over again. So what gives? What's the difference in credentials? Importance in terminology? When should you see one kind of support person over another? It's a complex and confusing conversation.

I'm going to start by saying I cringe when someone calls me a Lactation Consultant. Even my own husband does this sometimes and it actually makes me very upset. When someone uses the term "Lactation Consultant" it typically implies the support person has the IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) designation. That designation is "the gold standard" in lactation support. I am working very hard to achieve that designation, but am still in the process, and have not been awarded IBCLC status. So when I'm referred to as a "Lactation Consultant" I feel that it hurts me, it hurts families, and it hurts IBCLCs.

❤️❤️Update: I no-longer cringe because I am now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant! If you want to set up a virtual lactation support visit, text me at 609-200-0372!❤️❤️ We'll touch more on that later... But let's just define some acronyms first. IBCLC: International Board Certified Lactation Consultant - has completed very specific college level courses, attained a set amount of Lactation Support Contact Hours, has completed 90 hours of lactation specific education, has passed the IBLCE exam. IBCLC takes YEARS to achieve. May or may not be a healthcare professional also. Possesses the skills to educate families, providers, and support dyads through basic and complex nursing challenges. Often works in conjunction with medical professionals. CLC: Certified Lactation Counselor - has completed a 45 hour lactation support course provided through Healthy Children Project. May work in conjunction with medical professionals. Possesses the skills to educate families and support dyads through challenges that are within the normal course of breastfeeding. Should refer to IBCLC for complex challenges.

CLE: Certified Lactation Educator - programs are provided by various private companies with variable standards. Typically CLEs are qualified to TEACH families about preparing for their infant, how lactation works physiologically, common challenges to expect, how to navigate them, where to find support, etc. CBS: Certified Breastfeeding Specialist - This designation was awarded to me (and anyone who completes it! Haha) through Lactation Education Resources after a 90 hour Lactation Specific Education Program. This program alone meets the standards for lactation education requirements to be eligible to sit for IBLCE exam. LLL: La Leche League - A La Leche League leader is a mother who has experienced breastfeeding, first hand. She has been trained by La Leche League International on providing evidence based support to families in a peer/volunteer role. Many LLL Leaders will facilitate group meetings where moms are able to bond and ask questions, learn from each other, and look to the leader to share LLLI's wealth of research and information. A LLL leader is not a healthcare professional or paraprofessional, however, does help families navigate through the breastfeeding journey and approach challenges as they come. A LLL knows when to suggest a parent reaches out to a lactation professional. There are many more acronyms from private companies who provide their own unique breastfeeding support curriculum. Many of these designations and courses do meet some standard for the pathways to IBCLC. However, as you see, there is great variation in the designations, educations, and experiences.


This is a hot button topic in the Lactation Support world. Many feel the various designations are too confusing. And well, they are. It's not fair to families to think they are receiving the help and skill level of an IBCLC, but actually they are not. This is why it is important that no lactation support provider calls themselves a "Lactation Consultant" without the IBCLC designation. It is important for us to educate our clients on the differences, our scope, background, and what help we can provide.


Unfortunately there is no clear cut difference between "Complex" and "Normal" nursing challenges. Some that appear to be complex may be simple mismanagement, while others that appear to be normal may turn out to be complex. Luckily there is space for everyone. This world needs all the lactation education and support it can get. Having non-IBCLC support providers that know when to refer to an IBCLC is important because they're presence increases access to breastfeeding education and support. Additionally, since many areas do not have enough IBCLCs for the amount of dyads that need them, it reduces the case loads that IBCLCs would need to take on, so they can focus on the complex clients.


What are you waiting for? Schedule your Breastfeeding Class or Support Visit today! I provide Breastfeeding Education and Support for the Texoma area including Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, Decatur, Iowa Park, Bowie, and other North Texas locations. If you're outside of North Texas you can also book a virtual lactation support visit!

Jaimie Zaki is a military wife, homeschool mom of four, birth doula, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who helps women Birth and Breastfeed with confidence. Jaimie offers a free Virtual Support Group for pregnant and postpartum mothers, Virtual birth preparation, breastfeeding preparation, and live classes.

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