The Landscape of Breastfeeding Support: A User’s Guide

When looking at the landscape of breastfeeding support, there are different certifications, training programs, and scopes of practice.

Breastfeeding is a public health imperative. While breastfeeding rates continue to increase, significant barriers still exist for many families in spite of efforts at local, state and federal levels to improve breastfeeding support. Many mothers are unable to breastfeed for as long as they wish because they lack access to appropriate support services. There are three basic categories of lactation personnel, all of whom are necessary to improve breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity. However, differing education and training, multiple types of certifications, and confusing terminology may be bewildering to families, insurers, employers, policy makers, hospitals, and the general public. The US Lactation Consultant Association ( USLCA) delineates the three categories as:

  • Clinical Lactation Professional (IBCLC)
  • Lactation Counselor/Educator
  • Mother-to-Mother Peer Supporter

Clinical lactation professionals hold the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) credential and are health care professionals with clinical expertise in managing breastfeeding and human lactation. They are qualified to provide clinical care. IBCLCs serve families as advocates, clinicians, collaborators, educators, facilitators, investigators, policy consultants, professionals, and promoters. Rigorous professional standards and mandated demonstration of specialized knowledge and skill distinguish the IBCLC from lactation supporters. Lactation supporters such as Certified Lactation Counselors, Certified Lactation Educators and Certified Breastfeeding Specialists, specialize in teaching, supporting, and educating the public on breastfeeding and related issues. WIC Peer Counselors, La Leche League Leaders and other mother-to-mother supporters have personal experience with breastfeeding and are educated to provide basic information and support to other mothers. These categories are designed to help ensure that families with higher acuity issues know to seek out an IBCLC, the clinical lactation care professional, and families with educational/support needs know to seek out a counselor/educator or peer supporter.

The charts above are designed to provide a graphic representation of the lactation personnel available to help breastfeeding families meet their breastfeeding goals. Click on either image to download a printable copy.

Handout and imagery courtesy of the National Lactation Consultant Alliance, last revised 2021.

The contents of this information are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information on any given credential, please refer to that credential’s website or contact them directly.