There are at least 17 different certifications within the lactation field. So, even we can get confused sometimes on what’s what. That is why we put together our own guide / analysis to help set the record straight.
Before we dive deeper, there are 2 things we want to point out first.
Historically, Lactation Consultants were rarely considered “healthcare professionals” in the eyes of the law
That brings us to point #2…
Most health insurers only recognize the IBCLC certification for health insurance coverage
Now that we got those two points out of the way, let’s continue…
There is no official ranking (or classification) system when it comes to lactation certifications. In our opinion however, we believe there are four general “tiers” when it comes to lactation certifications. These tiers are not even remotely equivalent to each other though, with Tier 1 being far and away the most qualified type of Lactation Consultant from both a training / education perspective and also from the health insurance benefits you can get from working with them.
We won’t get into the specific training or requirements of each lactation certification program as that would be too time-consuming. We have included links to each certification program if you wish to learn more about it.
Without further ado, here are the four tiers of lactation certifications:
As we mentioned before, the IBCLC is the “gold standard” of lactation training and education. These are considered healthcare professionals and often qualify as an “in-network” healthcare provider within health insurance plans because of this certification.
Here are some highlights related to the training & education requirements for IBCLCs.
– A health sciences background in 14 different subject areas within an institute of higher learning (or be listed as a “recognized health profession” such as a Dietitian, Midwife, Nurse, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Medical Doctor, or Speech Pathologist, to name a few profession types),
– A minimum of 95 hours lactation specific education (including 5 hours of communications skills),
– As well as have relevant clinical experience (of at least 300, 500, or 1,000 hours of clinical experience depending on which of 3 potential pathways are being taken)
When should you reach out to an IBCLC specifically (compared to the other 3 Tiers of Lactation Consultants)?
These three lactation certifications are accredited through the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice.
When should you reach out to any of the Tier 2 Lactation Consultants (compared to the other Tiers of Lactation Consultants)?
– They tend to have more training / education than other Tiers (except for IBCLCs) and in the instance of ANLCs (Advanced Nurse Lactation Consultants), they are also Registered Nurses too. ALCs (Advanced Lactation Consultants) are required to be CLCs (Certified Lactation Counselors) first in order to qualify for the ALC training.
– If your needs are not very complicated, Tier 2 Lactation Consultants can be a great choice for lactation support.
– Breastfeeding Educator
– Certified Breastfeeding Counselor
– Certified Breastfeeding Specialist
– Certified Lactation Educator
– Certified Lactation Specialist
– Community Lactation Educator
– Lactation Counselor
– Lactation Education Counselor, and
– WIC Designated Breastfeeding Expert
When should you reach out to any of the Tier 3 Lactation Consultants (compared to the other Tiers of Lactation Consultants)?
When should you reach out to any of the Tier 4 Lactation Consultants (compared to the other Tiers of Lactation Consultants)?
Tier 4 Lactation Consultants have not undertaken any “professional” lactation training. Often the only requirement is that the person has breastfed themselves at some point, such as the La Leche League Peer Counselor. We are hesitant to include this “4th Tier” in this guide, but having peer support can still be helpful. If you are primarily struggling with motivation and want someone to help “hold you accountable” as a peer supporter or give you that extra emotional support when times are challenging, then a Tier 4 Lactation Consultant could be all that you need. Outside of providing emotional support and having “been there before themselves,” we recommend caution when asking for lactation advice from a Tier 4 Lactation Consultant because that advice might not be “evidence-based.”
One thing we want to point out is that just because a Lactation Consultant is not in Tier 1 or Tier 2 doesn’t necessarily mean they are not a good choice for getting lactation support.
Less than 5% of women have medical issues that prohibit them from being able to properly breastfeed. Most of the time, families don’t achieve their intended lactation goals because of the lack of a supportive environment. ALL Tiers of Lactation Consultants can help create a supportive environment for you.
If you don’t believe a medical issue is likely interfering with your ability to hit your lactation goals, then any Tier of Lactation Consultant can be a good choice for you. Often IBCLCs are only located in large, metropolitan areas. If having “in-person” consultations is important to you and no IBCLC is available locally, a different Tier of Lactation Consultant could be a better fit for you than getting virtual assistance via telehealth calls with an IBCLC.
In the end, these certifications are meant to help guide you in picking the best lactation professional FOR YOU. But, having a certain qualification is not always the most importance choice in the decision-making process. Sometimes advice from any lactation professional, at the right time, is a lot more important than the qualifications that this person holds. Sometimes having “in-person” support from any lactation professional is a lot more important to some parents than having the most qualified lactation professional only being available via a telehealth call. We recommend weighing what factors are most important to you and then make your decision based on how well someone lives up to those criteria. Some potential criterion include: