The International Board Certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) profession emerged with the awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby as published in the Report of the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Breastfeeding and Human Lactation in 1984. Lactation Consultants are allied health-care providers with the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitude to facilitate breastfeeding. A cooperative climate among numerous health care disciplines has fostered the development of the role of the lactation consultant as well as other lactation counselors. Many Lactation Consultants have the designation IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants). This designation indicates they have earned certification by meeting the rigorous International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, Inc. (IBCLC).
The first certification exam for Board Certified Lactation Consultants was administered in 1985, using an exam developed by the U.S. National Commission for Health Certifying Agencies (NCHCA)- The exam is six hours long and consists of didactic and clinical elements, and is currently offered in many languages and many countries.
While the role of the IBCLC and the “lay” counselor (e.g., La Leche League Leader, Childbirth Assistant) overlap in many ways, the role of the "lay" counselor who specializes in breastfeeding remains an important resource. The "lay" counselor generally maintains a long-term, somewhat informal relationship with her clients and is often valued as a friend or mentor. Her availability on a day to day basis over a long period of time, providing both support groups and one-to-one sessions as well as telephone counseling, are invaluable to mothers who are breastfeeding. Mothers who seek the services of a counselor enjoy a special relationship with someone who is knowledgeable about breastfeeding, and who personally knows her and her baby.
The IBCLC is a professional hired for her expertise. Her skills complement the mother-to-mother help of the counselor. The IBCLC in the workplace, such as the hospital clinic, physician's office, or in the client’s home usually has a short-term contact that lasts until the breastfeeding difficulty has been overcome. She may also see her clients in conjunction with other health-care providers. With a focus on preventive health care, IBCLCs encourage self-care and parental decision making before and after the baby is born. In addition, IBCLCs use a problem solving process to provide appropriate information in a variety of settings---hospitals, clinics, homes, and physicians' offices. Breastfeeding issues are addressed many times on a daily basis.
Formerly, the burden of answering mother’s questions was on the physicians, nurses, or even the receptionists--all of whom have other primary duties. Most did an admirable job, trying to give individual one-on-one help to the breastfeeding mom/couple. They relied mostly on their personal experience as an educational resource. They didn’t have time to answer non-medical, day to day concerns that can take the stress and worry out of breastfeeding.
The IBCLC or Lactation Consultant is able to provide competent information, often averting difficulties by spotting potential problems before they reach crisis proportions. Many new mothers desire and require breastfeeding care at the site of the baby’s birth and at check-up facilities. In a crisis, the Lactation Consultant is a key participant in the health care team.
Today’s mothers have more qualified breastfeeding specialists to assist them through their children’s breastfeeding years than ever before.