Profession expected to experience a 15 percent job growth rate from 2016 to 2026
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
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.
Physician Jessica A. Donhauser, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and pediatric hospitalist at John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital, wanted to pass on more information to her patients about breast feeding. Last February, she completed training and passed the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) exam, even though the certification doesn’t mean a pay bump for most health care providers.
“The thing I realized and a lot of pediatricians realize is we don’t get a lot of training on breastfeeding in medical school or in residency,” Donhauser said. “Taking this course gave me this background.”
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.
Having her own baby has also made a big difference for Donhauser.
“You feel vulnerable when you’ve just had a baby,” Donhauser said. “The support in the first two weeks is so critical. Even in subsequent children, the support is necessary. For moms eager to breastfeed, it may not come easily.”
While breastfeeding is perfectly natural, many young mothers weren’t breastfed themselves or don’t know other moms whom they can ask about nursing. They need someone who can mentor them in breastfeeding.
For Donhauser, earning her certification in lactation consulting has improved her confidence in offering more information to new moms.
Libby DiPiano, a registered nurse with Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, is an international board certified lactation consultant. She achieved the certification in 2000 to better serve her new mom patients.
“Anyone who goes into this has to be so supportive of our moms,” DiPiano said. “It’s so hard for moms in our culture. So many didn’t see their mothers breastfeed as they were growing up. And women go back to work sooner.”
DiPiano added that the job outlook for lactation consultants is good because many lactation professionals are retiring and will need replacements. She thinks that those interested in lactation consulting should seek a mentor in addition to the coursework. A healthy dose of passion helps, too.
“You have to really, really believe in it,” she said.
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.
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 earns.
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.
“It’s hard work and dedication for sure,” DiPiano said. “Sometimes the day shift doesn’t get home until 10 or 11 p.m. But I feel you have to believe in this. It’s not unusual we can be sitting down charting and the dad will say, ‘Would you see my wife one more time before you go home?’ How do you say no to this? This is reality, something I want the ones I mentor to really, really think about.”