by Star Rodriguez
Once upon a time, I was a brand new mom-to-be and I was going to breastfeed. I was determined and informed and ready to go.
And then I had my baby and everything went crazy. If there was a breastfeeding complication, I felt like I was hit with it. I had horrifically bad advice and support. We made it 14 months, but it was a serious struggle. In that struggle, there were a few beacons of awesomeness – my pediatrician, who was not well informed on breastfeeding but was totally willing to admit that and send me elsewhere for realistic help , and a couple of IBCLCs. There were also a few terrible people, including nurses and an IBCLC.
At one point during the whole ordeal, I remember thinking, “You know, I’m going to look into being an IBCLC, because women need help, and if this is any indication, they’re not getting it.” At the time, the requirements dictated what I thought was an absurd amount of contact and lactation specific education hours for me to be able to do it, so I put the thought from my mind and moved on.
Fast forward three years, and I have baby #2. The incorrect information and bad support in the hospital persisted. Luckily, I was no longer a novice – but even as an educated mom who had breastfed before, I found myself getting a little nervous about the scary picture the nurses painted as my daughter – delivered at 42 weeks by c-section following hours of IV fluids – lost “an excessive amount of weight in the first 24 hours.” A simple Google search found research papers identifying IV fluids as a determining factor in inflated birth weights – however, none of the nurses at the hospital where my daughter was delivered professed to know anything about that.
It was then that my interest in promoting correct, evidence based lactation support came back to the forefront. I was lucky to obtain a job as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor at WIC, and I decided to use those counseling hours to take the IBCLC exam. You know, eventually. Like 2012. I would take some college classes to meet the 2012 requirements for the exam (here are the official requirements, criticized by many for being slanted towards those with a medical background – ie, nurses and doctors.)
In August, a series of random events occurred that left me with ability – and a need – to spend more time at work. What was very part time increased and I began to wonder – what if I sat the IBCLC this year? After doing all sorts of math, I realized that getting all of my contact hours (I needed a thousand) was possible, if only just. I talked to my boss and family, and decided to go for it. Thus began a crash course in everything lactation related. I felt, for quite some time, like my life revolved around working and studying. I read everything from textbooks on lactation to research papers to statistics texts to Medications and Mother’s Milk. I joined study groups online and made flash cards and attempted to memorize the difference in looks between a herpes blister on the breast versus poison ivy versus eczema. There is a ridiculous amount of knowledge on breastfeeding out there, and some of it is quite different based on where you are globally. Since the IBCLC is an international exam (so your certification can be used anywhere in the world) there were certain things that I had to condition myself to think of in a global context instead of in an American one. I also had to fit in 45 hours of lactation specific education.
I sat the IBCLC exam on July 25th 2011. It was probably the most daunting test of my entire life, and I quite honestly am still not certain how I did on it. Most people who take the IBCLC exam pass; however, the exam grading process is very complex. It’s graded on the “Nedelsky” method, which is incredibly complex. Not only that, but during the exam, all candidates are given sheets allowing them to dispute questions that they consider unfair or incorrect. These sheets are all taken into account and certain questions can be thrown out based on them. Candidates do not know, going into the exam, what percentage will be passing; it varies by year and is not known until the day the results are released. All in all, it takes the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners about 3 months to get the results out. For me, this will be Friday October 28th. Candidates can use a code sent to them to check pass/fail status on IBLCE’s website, but they do not get the full breakdown of their results until they receive them in the mail.
For those of you considering taking the test, I urge you to go for it. It was a scary and huge endeavor, yes, but it was also so very worthwhile. Just be certain that you are adhering to the new guidelines for 2012 and beyond, and be aware the IBLCE changes them semi-regularly. For those of you reading this who, like me, are awaiting results, I hope you did a fantastic job, and I raise my hypothetical glass to you. Based on my experiences, we need driven, passionate, educated people in the lactation world, making a difference for new moms and babies.