By Norma O. Escobar – Wilmington, North Carolina, USA
My first baby, Michael, was born in 1991. At around six months, when I finally felt confident enough to venture out in public, I went to my first La Leche League (LLL) meeting. It was a coming home – a community of friends I had yet to meet! A group of women who were breastfeeding without shame, facing challenges to be the mothers they wanted to be for their children and celebrating small and big achievements. They trusted me to know myself and my family and empowered me to make bold choices. I had found my place and my people! Thanks to them I became a strong mother.
When the Leader of my local Group asked me if I wanted to become a volunteer in the organization, I immediately said yes. Thus began my journey in La Leche League, with the desire of empowering women the way I had been empowered. I became a La Leche League Leader in 1994. After a few years, I looked around and realized that I had acquired quite a large body of knowledge and skills. I had been facilitating meetings, taking and teaching communication workshops, going to LLL conferences, and supporting mothers.
I was aware of professional paths in which my expertise would be very valuable, such as becoming an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant® or IBCLC®. Therefore, after collecting the necessary information, I decided to take this path so that I could be recognized for my skills and turn my passion into a professional position.
Becoming an IBCLC requires the candidate to pass an examination that certifies they have the ability and knowledge needed to help families safely navigate the sometimes unpredictable course of breastfeeding. I was passionate about the topic and about helping mothers, so I willingly dedicated my time to reading and studying. I had the opportunity to deepen my expertise beyond what I already knew as an LLL Leader, to spend time shadowing professionals, and to become involved in task forces and coalitions. All my efforts to achieve my goal have been repaid. I successfully passed the examination and became an IBCLC in 2002.
How do you become an IBCLC?
Currently, there are three pathways for qualifying to take the certifying examination. All three require:
- Health Sciences Education, acquired through an approved health profession such as a Registered Nurse, Physical Therapist or Dietitian (see the IBLCE Recognised Health Professions List), or obtained through online or local universities.
- Lactation Specific Education, obtained with 90 hours of education in human lactation and breastfeeding, plus additional five hours of Communication Skills (beginning in 2021). I have received most of my Lactation Specific Education through La Leche League conferences and seminars, such as the Communication Skills workshops which LLL offers its volunteers for free.
- Lactation Specific Clinical Experience, acquired with a certain amount of supervised practice hours. La Leche League Leaders can count the hours they volunteer using a flat rate through 2021 and on an hour-per-hour basis effective January 1, 2022. 
How are the three pathways different?
The pathways only differ in the number of lactation specific clinical hours that are required to be completed before applying for the IBCLC exam. All hours must be completed in the five years prior to application.
Most La Leche League Leaders choose Pathway 1: Recognised Health Professionals and Recognised Breastfeeding Support Counsellors  which requires 1000 hours of clinical experience. This can be accomplished by leading groups, supporting mothers on the phone and online, and doing home visits. Depending on how many hours you are able to give, some LLL Leaders are able to reach the required hours in two years by volunteering 10 hours a week. One very easy way to do this is by volunteering for a helpline or online forum (https://www.facebook.com/groups/LLLI.Breastfeeding.Support).
Pathway 2: Accredited Lactation Academic Programmes  allows candidates to complete their clinical hours through accredited lactation academic programs. These programs provide didactic and clinical components and 300 directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice hours prior to applying for the IBCLC exam. Visit the CAAHEP (Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs) website to learn more about all the Pathway 2 programs available. 
Pathway 3: Mentorship with an IBCLC  consists of a structured and defined period of mentorship with an IBCLC. This pathway requires a plan to be submitted and verified by a mentor. If you apply through this pathway, you will need 500 directly supervised lactation specific clinical practice hours as described in the Pathway 3 Plan Guide. 
When can you apply for the IBCLC examination?
Once you have completed your prerequisites, you can apply for the IBCLC examination. The exam is typically offered twice a year in English – April and September – and in September only in the other 17 examination languages. (For more information go to the home page www.iblce.org and click on “Select Language”.)
What is the length of the IBCLC examination and how is the content determined?
The IBCLC examination consists of 175 multiple choice questions. The examination is given in two parts, each lasting 2 hours. Most questions in Part Two are associated with an image. The IBCLC examination is created by lactation subject matter experts, consisting primarily of IBCLCs, and in consultation with a psychometrician, or a professional who specializes in testing, measurement and assessment. The IBCLC examination consists of content related to the knowledge domains described in the IBCLC Detailed Content Outline. 
Do what you love
There’s a saying that goes “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and that has been true for me. I have a dream job in which I am able to translate the skills I learned in LLL to help mothers reach their breastfeeding goals and teach others how to do this as well. If you are interested in learning more about becoming an IBCLC, you can find further information by going to iblce.org and exploring the website.
Norma O. Escobar, IBCLC, RLC is originally from Mexico City, Mexico. She is a La Leche League Leader in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, and the Breastfeeding Coordinator and Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Manager for the New Hanover County Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program in North Carolina as well as the Perinatal Region V WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator. She is the mother of two sons and “abuela” to a precocious almost 3-year-old – Penelope. Norma is the Immediate Past Chair of the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners®.
1. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE), Recognised Breastfeeding Support Counsellor Organisations, https://iblce.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020_February_recognised-breastfeeding-support-counsellor-organisations_ENGLISH.pdf (accessed 21 November 2020).
2. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE), Pathway 1: Recognised Health Professionals and Recognised Breastfeeding Support Counsellors, https://iblce.org/step-1-prepare-for-ibclc-certification/lactation-specific-clinical-experience/pathway-1/ (accessed 21 November 2020).
3. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE), Pathway 2: Accredited Lactation Academic Programmes, https://iblce.org/step-1-prepare-for-ibclc-certification/lactation-specific-clinical-experience/pathway-2-accredited-academic-programs/ (accessed 21 November 2020).
4. Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs, Find an Accredited Program, https://www.caahep.org/Students/Find-a-Program.aspx (accessed 21 November 2020).
5. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE), Pathway 3: Mentorship with an IBCLC, https://iblce.org/step-1-prepare-for-ibclc-certification/lactation-specific-clinical-experience/pathway-3-mentorship/ (accessed 21 November 2020).
6. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE), Pathway 3 Plan Guide, https://iblce.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/2020_May_9_Pathway_3_Plan_Guide_FINAL.pdf (accessed 21 November 2020).
7. International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE), Candidate Information Guide, https://iblce.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2019_September_candidate-information-guide_ENGLISH.pdf (accessed 13 November 2020).