Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Healthy Children's Certified Lactation Counselor Course

I spent the week of October 11-15 taking the Certified Lactation Counselor course through Healthy Children's Center for Breastfeeding. I knew that I wanted to take a course in breastfeeding so that I could get some basic credentials, learn more about breastfeeding and maybe begin my journey towards becoming an IBCLC. Since I don't have a healthcare background, I figured a class like this would be a good place to start to see if becoming an IBCLC was even a realistic goal or worthy of further consideration. I chosen Healthy Children's CLC class because it seemed more comprehensive than the other options available, since it was a full 40 hours.

I was lucky that the course was offered in my backyard, but many people had traveled to attend the week-long class from all over Florida and the country. We met in a classroom at a local hospital and were informed by the faculty that they are happy to travel anywhere to teach, as long as someone can offer up a space. So if you've been looking for the class in your area and it hasn't been available, find out if your local hospital is willing to host them and they will come!

The faculty for my course were Dr. Lois Arnold, who is probably best well known for her work in human milk banking, and Sheri Garner, a nurse and lactation consultant who did a lot of work in military facilities. Both women were extremely knowledgeable about the subject matter and were great speakers. There really wasn't ever a dull moment, even when the material being presented wasn't new.

Now, as I said, I don't work in healthcare, but the majority of the women in the class with  me did. I'd say about half of the participants were nurses, mainly in Mother/Baby, but a few who worked in the NICU. The other half seemed to be WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselors. I was literally the only person who had no connection to healthcare or working with breastfeeding moms at all (there were two registered dietitians in the class and one speech pathologist and a couple IBCLCs there for continuing education credits.) Still, I'd say that I already knew about 85% of the material that was covered in the class.

There was a lot of discussion about the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding in this country, the WHO Code, infant formula, hospital best practices including Baby Friendly, how to talk to moms to encourage them to breastfeed, etc. All things that we talk about on this blog and my Facebook fan page and Twitter on the daily. So for me, a lot of this was review. Thankfully it's a topic I just can't get enough of, so it didn't bother me, but of course, your mileage may vary.

What was new for me was the science stuff: how milk is made, the hormones involved in lactation, the medical terminology, the diagrams of the various body parts and systems involved. I have never been very good with these sort of left-brained topics so for me, a lot of this felt rushed. I was struggling to remember my 9th grade biology and had a hard time remembering what all of the terms meant.  For everyone else it was probably review. And strangely enough, everyone else seemed to know very little about things like the WHO Code and formula marketing.

So while I enjoyed the course, there are a couple of caveats. I think the course really caters more to folks who are already working with moms and babies, and that makes sense. Nurses, lactation consultants, midwives and RDs are taking the class for continuing education credits. And to that end, Healthy Children recently added a new competency to the class. Before, participants were expected to do a brief homework assignment each night which included role playing with a partner and answering some short essay questions. Now, in order to pass the course and become a Certified Lactation Counselor, you must not only turn in the homework assignments and pass the 100-question exam offered on the final day, you must also pass a LAT competency.

The LAT is the Lactation Assessment Tool, created by Healthy Children, to help with assessing breastfeeding. It is a sheet that a CLC or IBCLC could use while observing a mom nursing her baby and determine whether or not the baby is nursing well. It asks questions about the latch, the way mom is holding the baby, the baby's behavior, etc. For the CLC course, you are shown a short video of a mom breastfeeding a baby and have to fill in the LAT. This portion of the class is pass/fail, meaning if you get anything wrong on the LAT you've failed and will not pass the overall course, even if you ace the multiple choice exam. I don't know how I didn't know this new competency  had been added to the course, but I didn't know. Many of the people in the class with me didn't know and much freaking out ensued. So if NURSES WHO WORK WITH MOMS AND BABIES EVERY DAY were freaking out, you can imagine how yours truly felt. I've never in my life helped a mom to breastfeed. And while I've read a lot of breastfeeding books, I would never say that I feel qualified to do so and I don't think the hour or so we spent on this was sufficient for someone outside of the medical profession to pass this portion. So if I pass, ya'll, it will truly be a miracle.

Overall, I can say that I enjoyed the course and it did help me to solidify what I'd like to do in the future and gave me a better understanding of what working with moms and babies is like. If I pass, it would be really cool to be able to call myself a CLC and  I'd love to start teaching some breastfeeding classes in the community. If I don't pass I'll definitely be disappointed and at this point, I'm not sure if I would bother retaking the LAT competency or just chalk it up to a fun experience and move forward.

Has anyone else taken the CLC or another lactation education class? What are your thoughts?

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