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Reflections from the 2015 Lactation Equity Action Seminar: Addressing Mentoring Challenges

Lactation Matters-the official blog of (5)By Norma Escobar, IBCLC, RLC

Part of the Lactation Equity Action Seminar this year focused on finding solutions to identified barriers to enter the IBCLC profession. One of the key themes that emerged is the need for mentors in the profession for underrepresented groups. But what does mentoring mean? Why do established IBCLCs sometimes cringe at the thought of mentoring an aspiring exam candidate even while recognizing the need to secure the future of the profession?

There are two kinds of mentoring: Formal and informal. By formal mentoring we may point to IBLCE’s Pathway 3, where an IBCLC takes on the task of making sure the exam candidate has the competencies needed to be a good lactation consultant. There are clear guidelines, expectations and costs involved to be a part of this type of relationship. The IBLCE web site has very specific guidance on this HERE and there are also publications that are available to those IBCLCs who want to make this a part of their practice model, which can be found HERE and HERE.

The formal mentoring programs and clinical internships have an important place in helping people enter the profession and hone their skills. But what about the aspiring candidate who perhaps is geographically isolated, or the IBCLC who does 2-3 home visits per week and some weeks sees no one as she works part-time around the needs of her family. Pathway 3 options are not practical in these cases. Then there are IBCLCs who work in teaching settings or research who may not necessarily be able to give the aspiring candidate the exposure to mothers and babies that a traditional mentoring program might. Does that mean that they are not able to mentor the next generation?

2014 PC Training Graduation

On the contrary, anyone who has passed the rigorous IBCLC examination can be a mentor to another person seeking to enter the lactation profession. Consider finding someone from an underrepresented population and see what you can do to encourage them to explore their options. Here are some simple (and more complex) ideas that have worked in various practice settings:

  • Be available to answer questions about the certification process and share your experience on how you became certified. Even though requirements may have changed over the years, the basics are the same: clinical experience, basic knowledge set, lactation education hours.
  • Encourage mothers who are breastfeeding “stars” to become volunteers in established mother-to-mother support organizations, such as La Leche League International, Breastfeeding USA, and the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
  • Participate or start a breastfeeding coalition in your community. Talk about the need for more IBCLCs and provide opportunities for networking and sharing.
  • Consider loaning out some of your professional books or back issues of professional publications such as JHL to aspiring IBCLCs.
  • Join a facebook group of aspiring IBCLCs such as “Want to be an IBCLC” to see what the concerns are and see if you can provide assistance.
  • Invite interested candidates to shadow you for a day or a client interaction.
  • Establish a volunteer program in your hospital or public health setting to help interested individuals get clinical hours and experience in a supervised setting.
  • Offer to pay someone’s way (or partial way) to a breastfeeding conference
  • If you offer education events for lactation, consider a scholarship (or several) for participants from underrepresented populations
  • Educate yourself on sources for funding for aspiring IBCLCs, such as the MILCC Scholarship, and DONATE! Every little bit helps!

2013 May pc

During my time as a breastfeeding supporter I’ve mentored many women into the field of breastfeeding, first as an LLL Leader, now as an IBCLC. In my IBCLC role, I have been privileged to be able to partner with my local hospital and WIC agency establishing a Peer Counselor Volunteer Program. Many of these volunteers are interested in becoming IBCLCs and are willing to give us their time in order to accumulate the clinical hours that they need to sit for the exam. Some of them have already gone on to become IBCLCs. While establishing these programs can be challenging, the pay-off is more skilled breastfeeding helpers.

What are your ideas for mentoring the next generation? I know there are innovative ideas you’ve come up with or have dreamed of. Please share with the rest of us so we can be inspired!

normaOriginally from Mexico City, Norma Escobar originally trained as an English as a Second Language Instructor.  After moving to the United States and having children, she found her passion in helping breastfeeding mothers. Norma has been working with breastfeeding women since 1994 as a Leader with La Leche League, where she served in a multitude of roles.  She became an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in 2002.  She currently serves as the Breastfeeding Coordinator and Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Manager for the New Hanover County WIC program in North Carolina as well as the Perinatal Region V WIC Breastfeeding Coordinator.   She believes this is the role she was made for as she is responsible to mentoring the next generation of breastfeeding helpers, be they Peer Counselors, health care professionals or community volunteers. She is the mother of two grown sons without whom she would have never discovered the joys and challenges of breastfeeding.

6 Responses to Reflections from the 2015 Lactation Equity Action Seminar: Addressing Mentoring Challenges

  1. Rachel O'Leary 8 October 2015 at 06:38 #

    Hi Norma! Great article 🙂 I’m interested – how do your WIC peer counsellors afford to do the study requirements for IBCLC? In the UK this is equivalent to doing a science degree, and requires college study, full time. There are lots of LLLLs and other breastfeeding counsellors who would love to do the IBCLC exam but cannot take time off work and family to go to college. Some already have degrees, but not in science subjects. Love, Rachel

    • Norma Ortiz Escobar 20 October 2015 at 08:22 #

      Hi Rachel – there are some low cost and no cost options available in English through on-line providers – the facebook page “want to be an IBCLC” has compiled a list in their files section that is worth a look. . . yes, this is a challenge

  2. Dixie Whetsell, MS, IBCLC 14 October 2015 at 13:21 #

    Lots of IBCLCs would like to mentor lactation students but don’t because they feel they don’t have the training to precept a student. Portland State University School of Community Health in Portland OR is starting a new lactation training program. Along with our lactation education courses and Pathway 2 program, we plan to offer training for IBCLCs who want to precept students. It will be a one day training offered in the Summer term each year. For more information about see our web site, or email your questions to

    • Norma Ortiz Escobar 20 October 2015 at 08:23 #

      Dixie, great news! consider writing a blog post about this or submitting a proposal for ILCA this year – deadline is Oct. 30

  3. Celeste 30 October 2015 at 20:06 #

    I found myself in Normas office one day because my 4 month old son was choking, sputtering and pulling off the breast during feedings. I heard through the community that Norma was the “Breastfeeding Guru” and she could help.
    After teaching me Laid Back Position, we were “fixed” and once again enjoying nursing!
    At this visit, Norma encouraged me to become a Peer Counselor. I was almost finished earning my Nursing degree but could not pass up the opportunity to engage in the breastfeeding community.
    Fast forward several years later and today I have my certification in hand stating I am now an IBCLC. I will never forget how Norma allowed me to feel empowered by breastfeeding my baby and gave me tools to be successful. I have myself helped countless mothers feed their baby. Normas heart for what she does truely has a lasting and exponential effect.

    • Norma Ortiz Escobar 25 November 2015 at 09:29 #

      Celeste – you are a great example of what mentoring can look like! So proud of you and your accomplishments!

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