My journey to the IBCLC exam in 22 easy steps

International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) come from a wide range of backgrounds. There are doctors, nurses, midwives, and other healthcare providers; social workers and dietitians; stay-at-home moms; doulas and massage therapists; accountants and editors. There are also different ways to obtain clinical hours in order to sit for the exam, and you can obtain those hours in a wide variety of settings. This variation in background helps to bring the perspectives of  diverse people together, which is all the better to help the diverse populations that seek out assistance with lactation and breastfeeding.

Since I find it fun to read about other people’s journeys to becoming an IBCLC, I thought I’d share mine, so far. The journey started, without me knowing, when I had my first baby. The lactation consultant who visited me in the hospital introduced herself and grabbed my breasts to squeeze out a bit of colostrum. She bombarded me with information about how to latch my baby, none of which I retained (but my husband did), but gave me some of the most useful parenting advice I’ve heard (that babies’ hands are their best friends, and babies should be allowed to spend time with them). It was all not necessarily bad, but it was certainly an interesting introduction to the world of lactation.

Without further ado, my journey to the IBCLC exam in 22 easy steps.

  1. Mid-2007: Have a baby. Have no idea how to breastfeed baby aside from an understanding that humans are mammals and mammals make milk for their young, etc. Be surprised a couple of weeks into parenting to realize that, in the United States, breastfeeding is a rarity. Spend lots of time on in the earliest days, and then, later, on mother-to-mother support forums such as those on Livejournal.
  2. Mid-2009: Keep breastfeeding (and pumping for) baby. Become pregnant with another baby. Have that other baby. Breastfeed that one, too. (It goes easier this time.)
  3. Early 2010: Get it in my head that it would be a great idea to become a postpartum doula. No idea where this thought came from. Part of the pre-training requirements is to take a breastfeeding class. Find the CLC course—might as well get a few letters after my name while fulfilling the requirement.
  4. Mid-2010: Drive back and forth to Mankato for a week for the CLC course. Decide I want to be Karin Cadwell when I grew up. Lust after Union Institute masters program in lactation (I have a B.A. in writing). Learn that almost everything I learned about breastfeeding from other moms was total rubbish. Mind is blown. Become obviously geekier about boobs, enough to earn a nickname from The Marriage Geek. Later, go to postpartum doula training, where I am told that my business name (The Boob Geek) would totally not work.
  5. Late 2010 to late 2011: Attempt to get postpartum doula business off the ground. This is complicated by having a 40+ hour per week job and no one having any clue what a postpartum doula is, let alone wanting to hire one for anything other than nothing. At some point, look into becoming an IBCLC. At the time, there are five pathways; get nowhere in considering which pathway would work best for me.
  6. Late 2011: Pregnant again. Surprise—twins!
  7. Entirety of 2012 and most of 2013: THE LOST YEARS. What happened? I have no idea, though my lactation horizons did broaden once I had two babies at the same time to nurse and learned a ton (some good information, some no-so-good information) about breastfeeding twins from other twin moms. Become WIC peer counselor.
  8. 2013: Hey, wait! New IBCLC pathways! Mull over which would work. Consider becoming an RN, entering the Union Institute masters program, or applying to a masters program in public health, and even get so far as taking the GRE (rocked English, bombed math). Decide that spending $40K+ on education probably is not in the cards. Email back and forth with Gini Baker at the University of California San Diego Extension pathway 2 program.
  9. October 2013: Find out about lactation internship program at local hospital from their booth a the Twin Cities Birth & Baby Expo. Get very excited and email said hospital immediately. Am told to check back in six months; put six-months-from-now on calendar.
  10. End of 2013: Decide that I will cash in my previously-unknown-to-me, very modest (as in, less than $3,000) life insurance policy that my dad had been paying into in order to pay for prerequisites to sit for the exam, should I get to the point where I feel I am ready to do that.
  11. March 2014: Decide I’ve had enough waiting and set myself the goal of applying for the UCSD program by the deadline (August), for which I need to complete the CLEC course, Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Child Development. (Since I was a psychology and biology major when I first entered college way back in the day, I had the other prerequisites covered.) Think it’s insane but doable to work nearly full-time and take a bunch of courses online.
  12. May 2014: Email back and forth with internship program. Eventually stop getting emails (but have at least determined that I need to get into the Pathway 2 program in order to do the internship). Freak out. Go to La Leche League conference and meet two of the IBCLCs who work at hospital. Make fool of self initially but later have conversation during which I am encouraged to apply.
  13. June 2014: How can I apply with no application? Freak out more. There is a lot of freaking out during this process.
  14. July 2014: Almost done with classes. No luck finding a clinical site yet, despite contacting all of my contacts and cold-emailing a bunch of others. Many, many hospitals (all but one, it seems!) do not allow shadowing or interns. Getting a clinical site is one requirement of the UCSD program. Feel that it is all pointless and hopeless and OMG what I am doing and what was I thinking and I am dooooooooooooomed.
  15. Late July 2014: Eventually manage to get an application! And complete application! And get/have interview! Am so excited!
  16. August 2014: FREAKING OUT. Have not heard yet. Classes done, so even more free time in which to freak out. Try to not freak out. Fail.
  17. Mid-August 2014: Almost anticlimatic level of relief when I am awarded internship. Why was I so worried? Of course I would get it. *shines fingernails on shirt*
  18. September 2014: Get accepted into the UCSD program! Yay! Give UCSD every last bit of savings (including a scholarship from Braden Lodge)! Boo!
  19. October 2014: Start internship. Wish to marry internship. So in love. *heart eyes*
  20. May 2015: Will be done with program! Then I will study a whole lot and…
  21. July 2015: Take the exam. Freak out for three months waiting for exam results.
  22. PROFIT!!!

There you have it, folks. Piece of cake.

Update: I am happy to report that I passed my exam. You can now call me Tipper Gallagher, IBCLC.