Two years. Five letters.
I think one of my favorite things about clinical lactation is the troubleshooting. Taking in all the information from a parent: goals, health history, support system, access, etc.; all of that, then collaborating on a plan of execution. An analogy I love to use is they provide the final destination, I am the gps. “Rerouting” as needed or desired.
What does this have to do with becoming an IBCLC Erika? Well, it’s very similar to how I completed the requirements to apply to sit for the IBLCE exam. It was stating my goal, learning about the ways to get there, identifying the potential obstacles, then adjusting the route as detours popped up. Hello Covid!
From the time I learned about lactation as a profession (Labor day weekend 2018) to when I sat for my exam (9/11 of 2020) was just about two years. In general, I have learned that it was a fairly quick turnaround.
The time it takes to become an IBCLC varies widely based on:
- there being numerous ways to complete the requirements
- some of the requirements may already be completed from previous education or job experience
- access to funding
- time available to consistently pursue it
- the requirements changing while in pursuit
You get the gist.
I think you’ll be hard pressed to find an apples to apples comparison on this journey.
I did not set out with the specific length of 2 years to complete the requirements. Mainly because after going to the IBLCE website I could not fully grasp what they were lol! After doing a lot of research (more on that shortly) and realizing I would be taking a pay cut, 2 years was the timeframe I allowed myself to get it done before reassessing it as a career path. Making a life pivot at the age of 32, I felt a sense of urgency in knowing sooner rather than later if it was a good fit.
Now, if you’ve found this blog AFTER visiting iblce.org, you make look something like this:
We’ve all been there. Don’t be discouraged! There are a ton of resources out there to help make sense of it all. Including this blog post!
My first step was searching for other sources to explain the pathways that didn’t abruptly shut my brain down.
Thankfully I quickly stumbled upon Nikki and Nikki Lactation Career Coaching. There was a video of people who not only simplified the pathways but they also looked like me! Last year, they posted an updated video of the one I watched in 2018.
After wrapping my brain around the differences between the pathways as far as requirements, I needed to breakdown the estimated out of pocket expense for each pathway. At the time, I was far from “where the money resides” so this was a huge factor.
This is the perfect time to discuss the privilege I had throughout this process. I had a dual income household, family who financially invested and a support system that kept me motivated.
I won’t be breaking down the pathways but one of the similarities with all the pathways is lactation education. There are various ways to satisfy this requirement. I looked for options that fit my life at the time. I was working full time, parenting, and being a partner. So self paced and online was necessary. Lactation Education Resources (LER) popped up a few times as I researched. They offer a course that satisfied the (at the time) 90hrs of lactation education and provided me with a credential at the end. The price tag? Steep. Nearly $1,000 in 2018.
Before I could justify that expense I needed to get an insight on the potential return on investment (ROI). In doing that, I discovered the various ways to work within the field outside of consults such as research, writing, teaching, presenting, etc. My next step? I pitched my older brother to fund the LER course. He we sold and the next day I started my journey on becoming a Certified Breastfeeding Specialist.
A lot of my story is about me spending the time doing the research that’s already accessible like a simple google search, messaging those in the field, and searching lactation specific facebook groups for answers. The following groups were pivotal in me meeting my goal:
I narrowed down fairly quickly that Pathway 1 would be the only cost effective and accessible option. I did reach out to a few local IBCLCs in my area and there wasn’t enough traffic or option for me to shadow in the hospital setting at the time to efficiently get my clinical hours. I was on WIC at the time and learned that being a Peer Breastfeeding Counselor through them was a way I could get clincical experience. The only problem? They weren’t hiring at the time.
So, I waited. I would send an email to the WIC and Breastfeeding Coordinators every couple of months or so to keep my name and interest level fresh on their mind. Then by luck, alignment, happenstance, God whatever you want to call it I emailed one day and it was the same day their full time Peer Counselor put in their notice. This was March of 2019. I started April of 2019.
If you’re unfamiliar with WIC Peer Counselors they can be rare to come by, especially in the part of Indiana I live in. They are often volunteer based, are PRN or part time. As a result, it can take an extended amount of time to accumulate the 1,000 clinical hours to satisfy the Pathway 1 requirement.
So, if you made it this far, to summarize where my journey was at this point:
- learned about lactation as a profession: September 2018
- signed up with LER to start lactation education: October 2018
- became a full time WIC Peer Counselor April 2019
Now, the fun part. Satisfying the health sciences education. It’s a common misconception that you need to have a college degree to become an IBCLC or that you must first be a Registered Nurse. The requirements are specific to education needed to understand the aspects of clinical lactation. I do not have a college degree but did complete 3 years worth. The challenge was identifying what would count. This Nikki and Nikki checklist was great for me as a visual learner. The have all the pathways checklist on their website.
I thankfully had a couple classes on my transcripts from college that satisfied some requirements. Compared to the lactation education, the health science education credits do not expire. With budget, time commitment, and flexibility as filters, I started searching lactation facebook groups and google for courses that fit the bill. With Covid starting around the same time there were more legitimate virtual options popping up.
Disclaimer: The following options were taken between 2019–2020. Availability, price, approval from IBLCE may have changed since.
A great thing about the IBCLC credential is that it’s international. It allows for requirements to be met in various ways to allow for some equity. A frustrating thing is having no definite company list or classes that are approved. Rather there are course descriptions.
My gut from the beginning told me I would be selected as part of the random auditing. It’s done every round prior to approving exam applications. So, I hyper-focused on being able to “sell” why the options I selected qualified based on the verbiage in IBLCE’s Health Sciences Education Guide.
Having the Health Sciences Education Guide printed off to cross reference class/syllabus descriptions was extremely helpful.
One of my favorite resources I stumbled upon was Modern States. I used this option to satisfy: CLEP Introductory Sociology
The objective is to study a subject in preparation for passing a variety of CLEP exams. Courses and textbooks/materials are free. At the time I only had to come out of pocket for the testing fee (I was reimbursed for after providing proof of passing) and $20 to get the credit transferred to a transcript.
- Pros: online, self paced, no out of pocket expense to start and quick turnaround on reimbursement for testing, rolling start date
- Cons: may not be a great fit for those who don’t test well or those who need a group or class setting
- Audit verification provided: ACE credit
Next, I learned about Sophia.org. I used this option to satisfy: Biology.
The incentive was an option to do an online college level course that’s self paced. At the time (spring of 2020) they had a promotion to take certain courses for free.
- Pros: The Professor was thorough and engaging, there were quizzes and exams, no delay in getting proof of completion, lower out of pocket compared to traditional college course
- Cons: self paced, can be challenging to stay motivated, limited time to complete before it could potentially be expensive, rolling start date
- Audit verification provided: ACE credit
The last resource I had to spend a lot of time doing research to trust it was valid. Centre of Excellence (COE) is based over in England.
With the exam being international, you do not have to only take courses in the same country you reside in. This post in the “Want to be an IBCLC?” Facebook group peaked my interest. I used this option to take: Biochemistry and Child Psychology
The incentive is it offers an alternative to traditional college courses or Professor recorded classes.
- Pros: one of the options covered multiple IBLCE requirements, self paced, rolling start date, price point
- Cons: no live recording (video or audio) or interactive slides, heavy concepts, daunting to push through completing, at the time in 2020 the ABC awards were delayed being mailed due the pandemic, automated completion of course email insufficient proof for audit
- Audit verification provided: ABC awards (comparable to ACE credits)
The start of the pandemic in 2020, needless to say, brought A LOT of pain points I had to maneuver and push through. The deadline to apply for the Fall 2020 exam got shifted back multiple times and that is the only way I was eligible to apply. After emailing, messaging and flat out begging customer service at COE, I was able to pay for my ABC awards to be emailed. The deadline to apply was the following day. It’s required for the date of completion for all requirements to be prior to the date of applying.
Some people may roll the dice, but remember I KNEW in my gut I was going to be randomly selected to be audited. And part of me was happy about that. It allowed me to be able to prove in black and white I had completed all of the requirements. It was terrible waiting while they reviewed but eventually got he green light I passed the audit.
For the additional six general education Health Science classes this is where WIC came in with additional perks. There were certain continuing education for our role that was required and payed for by WIC. I used proof of completion from transcripts to satisfy the following:
- Occupational Safety & Security for Health Professionals
- Professional Ethics for Health Professional
- Universal Safety Precautions and Infection Control
Due to no in person options (peak Covid) I took Basic Life Support online to satisfy that requirement too. WIC did offer it in person and for free, however, at the time the clinics were closed and we were working from home.
I did live remote proctoring and took my exam September 11, 2020.
I got the results I passed on December 16, 2020.
Funding for getting all of these requirements included:
- initial $975 investment from my older brother and sister in law
- Terry Jo Curtis Scholarship to cover $66o IBLCE exam fee from the Indiana Breastfeeding Coalition
- my WIC job offered tuition reimbursement for some of the health science courses and access to study materials, conferences for lactation education all for free
- portions of my tax returns and the initial stimulus check
Generally in August yearly various discounts and/or lactation scholarships are available. I didn’t keep a great receipt paper trail but estimate I came out of pocket > $500.
Whew. You made it to the end! That, my friends, is how I met my goal of becoming an IBCLC in 2 years. It took sacrifice, strategizing, support and…I can’t emphasize this enough… a LOT of coffee.
If you found this blog helpful, give it a share and consider buying me a coffee!
Feel like you need to talk through your plan or have detailed questions for me? Let’s schedule some time to chat!
And lastly, if you haven’t already, take a listen to my journey on my podcast episode “It’s Not Too Late to Pivot” for the Leveling Up in Lactation podcast.