Lactation Consultants

Profession expected to experience a 15 percent job growth rate from 2016 to 2026

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that registered nurses with credentials as lactation consultants will experience a 15 percent job growth rate from 2016 to 2026. The BLS doesn’t account for independent lactation consultants, but with that rate of growth and the resurging interest in lactation, working as a lactation consultant sounds like a solid career option. That’s not why most lactation consultants pursue this type of work, however. It’s a work of love.

Diane Cassidy never planned to work as an lactation consultant. The more she learned from a breastfeeding class as a new mom, the more she realized she wanted to help more moms know its bonding and health benefits.

She eventually completed training and passed the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) exam. She has worked in a hospital setting and pediatric office and now works full-time as an independent lactation consultant.

It may seem like obstetricians and pediatricians give moms the help they need, but Cassidy said that “they don’t know a lot about breastfeeding, especially if the baby isn’t gaining weight. They’re not trained in breast feeding.”

She said that many mothers feel very closely followed by providers throughout pregnancy and then afterwards, they lack mentors. While breastfeeding is perfectly natural, many young mothers weren’t breastfed themselves or don’t know other moms whom they can ask about nursing.

“Your body can create and nourish a life,” Cassidy said.

She said she spends a lot of time correcting false information about breastfeeding and encouraging mothers to feel confident that their bodies can do what they’re meant to do.

“It really makes me feel good to help support families and navigate this easier,” Cassidy said. “I find it to be quite an honor. It’s a vulnerable time and so hard and confusing for moms. I like putting a mom at ease.”

For Alison Spath, an independent lactation consultant, her own experience as a new mother 14 years ago drew her to want to help other new moms learn about the importance of breastfeeding and guide them to breastfeeding success.

She had been working as a computer programmer. When she was pregnant with her first child, Spath went to La Leche League meetings to learn more about breastfeeding and found she loved the peer support. She wanted to offer the same kind of help to other moms.

“I loved this field once I became a mom,” Spath said.

Spath completed training to become a birth doula and later passed the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) exam. She sees clients at Beautiful Birth Choices in Rochester or in clients’ homes.

Lactation consultants help mothers who want to learn more about breastfeeding or experience problems with milk supply, the baby latching on properly or other issues. Women who have undergone breast reduction or augmentation may face issues with breastfeeding. Adoptive mothers of newborns may want to induce lactation and could use the help of a consultant.

Before sitting for the IBCLC exam, a lactation consultant candidate must complete sufficient required health science classes (or have completed training such as an RN or obstetrician), complete a minimum of 90 hours lactation-specific education and complete a required number hours of supervised breastfeeding clinical support. The requirements vary depending upon the individual’s educational background and if they take the mentorship route.

Certified lactation counselors must have 45 hours of training and pass a three-part test. Less ongoing education is required compared with a lactation consultant.

Ellen Derby, certified lactation counselor and birth doula, said that she answers “more common areas of concern” about lactation.

Derby meets with clients between Rochester and Waterloo and south into Yates, Ontario and Steuben counties. She has been a counselor 18 years.

Derby struggled to breastfeed as a new mom. After she had her third child in 2000, she began working with new moms in a peer program and eventually became certified as a lactation counselor.

“I like helping moms feel they can breastfeed,” she said.

According to www.salary.com, a median annual income for lactation consultants is $79,007, but that was based upon registered nurses who have completed lactation consultant training. Since many work independently or else completed training to augment other, related work, it’s difficult to estimate how much a lactation consultant makes.

Lactation consultants work in obstetric and pediatric offices; as a midwife, doula or labor and delivery nurse; or as part of a women’s wellness/health practice.

Independent lactation consultants charge around $125 to $150 to meet with a client and engage in follow-up calls and emails. The rates depend upon several factors, including if it’s an in-home session. Many hospitals offer ongoing consulting as part of the birthing experience.

“I think it’s a field that’s growing,” Cassidy said. “When I started 13 years ago, were weren’t that many of us.”

She advises women interested in lactation consulting, whether full-time or to augment her other health care work, to find an established consultant as a mentor.

“Some of the greatest teaching I got was from the mentors I had,” Cassidy said.

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