5 ways you can help breastfeeding parents (part 2)

Photo by Rita & Tomek via Flickr Creative Commons

Part 1 of this series talked about ways you can help breastfeeding parents on a casual, one-on-one basis. This post concentrates on the more structured ways you can help, such as becoming a birth or postpartum doula, La Leche League (LLL) leader, Breastfeeding USA counselor, WIC peer counselor, Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC), Certified Lactation Educator (CLE), or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

This is by no means exhaustive, nor does it constitute an endorsement of any particular programs. Please feel free to share your experiences and point out other options in the comments.

  1. Working as a birth or postpartum doula. While both birth and postpartum doulas are only required to have a few hours of breastfeeding education in order to be certified, they have the unique opportunity to be involved with breastfeeding dyads prenatally and immediately postpartum. Doulas can also indirectly contribute to breastfeeding success by helping to optimize birth and support families in the postpartum period. There can be significant cost involved in training and certifying as a doula, as well as for membership fees. However, certification is not a requirement for offering one’s services as a doula. (Personally, I chose not to pursue certification, although I did go through DONA training.)Some organizations offering options for training and certification include:



    Birth Arts International

    Birthworks International

    Childbirth International

    Academy of Certified Birth Educators

    International Childbirth Education Association

    Birthing From Within

  2. Leadership in breastfeeding support organizations. La Leche League has been offering support to breastfeeding mothers since 1956 and continues to be a source of top-notch education and assistance. The process to become a leader is no small task. On average, an applicant takes a year to go through the process, although some applications have been completed in a few months. There is some cost involved with applying and becoming a leader, but, on the other hand, there are such a large number of LLL groups around the world that you’re almost certain to find a place to use your leadership abilities to their best advantage.Breastfeeding USA is a relatively new breastfeeding support organization. Their application process seems to be a little more streamlined than LLL, and the cost is less. Due to the organization’s newness, however, there are fewer existing groups, and starting a new one in your area may be a large task for one person alone. They do provide information on how to promote your group and build an audience.Note: As an LLL leader or Breastfeeding USA counselor, you provide your assistance on a volunteer basis; leadership in these organizations is not meant to be used on a professional basis. However, you can count the hours you spend helping moms toward the contact hours needed to pursue certification as an IBCLC.
  3. Working with moms through WIC as a peer counselor. The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is known by some as “the place to get free formula,” but in recent years, the emphasis has been on breastfeeding education and support. One important piece of this is the peer counselor program. Requirements for becoming a peer counselor may vary by state or county, but, generally speaking, peer counselors are mothers who have breastfed a child for a certain amount of time and qualify (or have qualified) to take part in the WIC program themselves. WIC peer counselors are provided with training and continuing education. Pay rates vary, as do the ways peers interact with moms. Some peer counselors offer phone support only. Others do in-home or clinic visits. Email and text messaging is also being used more frequently. There is no clear-cut way to get involved with the program: Use word-of-mouth, sign up for county job alerts, email your county health department, and hope you strike gold. These hours can also be used toward contact hours needed to pursue certification as an IBCLC.
  4. Obtaining certification as a lactation counselor or educator. Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) offer support during the normal course of breastfeeding. The scope of practice is relatively narrow, leaving more complicated breastfeeding situations to IBCLCs. CLCs receive some training (a 45-hour course) and pass an exam to demonstrate understanding of the material. Having gone through the course, I can say that it offers a wide range of fantastic information, but not much depth, and it takes a lot of studying, observation, and work with moms outside of the course for the credential to really have meaning. Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding offers courses throughout the year in various locations.Many of the organizations that offer doula training also offer training and certification for lactation educators. As the name suggests, a lactation educator’s focus is primarily on educating about breastfeeding.
  5. Going all the way—becoming an IBCLC. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) is the organization that offers certification as a lactation consultant; certified individuals are known as IBCLCs. The pathways to certification can be confusing and are subject to change; currently, there are three pathways, which can roughly be translated into pathways for medical personnel and peer counselors (LLL leaders, Breastfeeding USA counselors, WIC peer counselors) who work with breastfeeding mothers, people who complete a degree program in human lactation, and for those with no previous training or who do not hold a job or volunteer position related to lactation. Each pathway requires some core college-level coursework but varying amounts of in-person, supervised by an already-certified lactation consultant, clinical hours, all of which must be completed before being able to take the exam. The exam, ultimately, decides whether or not you will be certified. It can take many years to achieve the status of IBCLC, and there are things to consider outside of which pathway to take to certification. For example, many clinics and hospitals wish to hire IBCLCs who are also RNs, so, depending upon your career goals and level of tenacity, you may wish to plan your career around this fact.

Are you a lactation professional, or do you wish to become one? How did you decide to pursue this line of work, and how are you doing it?