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To become a lactation educator hired by a health facility or hospital, a person must have previous experience and training in infant care and pregnancy. A leadership position in one's local chapter of La Leche League, for example, could be considered a valid means of gaining experience with this topic. Professional certification is not required to become a lactation educator, although a Certified Lactation Educator (CLE) certification is available in some areas. An individual who chooses to become a lactation educator and then desires further training can participate in a program to become internationally certified as a lactation consultant.
Anyone who follows a path to become a lactation educator should have a strong interest in teaching others about breastfeeding. This could include instructing healthcare workers how to support mothers of newborns who wish to breastfeed, as well as teaching prospective parents what can be expected when breastfeeding a baby. If you become a lactation educator, you might also work in one-on-one support of a new mother who has difficulties in breastfeeding. One step along this professional path can involve CLE certification, which could include an in-person training of up to 20 hours in addition to other components, such as recorded hours of observing breastfeeding consultations or student teaching in a lactation education class. Many CLE programs are offered part time or as distance programs for those who must continue working while furthering their education.
Some professional lactation programs offer introductory-level training as a lactation specialist. This beginner level programming is aimed at individuals who already work in the healthcare field. Interested individuals can then continue with intermediate and advanced certifications as a lactation educator and lactation consultant.
It is important to make a professional distinction between lactation educators and certified lactation consultants. A lactation educator has no specific certification and is not overseen by an international authority regarding breastfeeding training or advocacy. Conversely, a certified lactation consultant has followed a consultant program involving a specified number of health credits and has passed an exam to gain international certification as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant. The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners is a worldwide organization with divisions in the Americas as well as the Middle East, Europe, Australia, Africa, and the Asian Pacific region.
Lactation educators or consultants can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, birthing facilities, or other healthcare locations. Some lactation consultants or educators act as breastfeeding advocates in community settings, such as public forums. Occasionally, these professionals can be involved in the rental of breast pumps and other breastfeeding paraphernalia. Some lactation educators use the different types of part-time work as a supplement to providing services as a doula.
Breastfeeding education often involves being a companion and aide to a new mother as she becomes accustomed to the process of breastfeeding. This can include support with problems that can occur when breastfeeding a newborn, such as reluctance to feed, breast pain or tenderness, and latching difficulties. A lactation consultant or educator could provide resources and advice in such circumstances.
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