Sarah Iverson: Certified Lactation Educator

Physician Assistant Sarah Iverson recently received her Certified Lactation Educator certification. We talked to her about what this certification entails and how patients can benefit from her knowledge and training.

What is a CLE and how did you get this certification?

CLE stands for Certified Lactation Educator. To obtain this certification, I completed a weeklong training in October with 40 hours of classroom training and 5 hours of projects outside of the classroom. Our lectures included topics such as the benefits of breastfeeding/chestfeeding, cultural practices and beliefs around breastfeeding/chestfeeding, the role of pumping, bottle-feeding and formula-feeding techniques, newborn behavior, breast and nipple pain, common breastfeeding problems and medication management in breastfeeding.

How is this different than IBCLC (International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant)? Do both certifications work together?

There are a lot of different acronyms in the lactation world. A certified lactation counselor (CLC) or certified lactation educator (CLE) is someone who has gone through a 45-hour lactation training program.  An International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is required to have completed 14 health science courses (such as at a college or university), an additional 90 hours of lactation training, and then finally 500-1,000 hours of hands-on lactation experience.

Yes, all lactation providers work together.  Becoming a CLE or CLC can be a step towards becoming an IBCLC. Otherwise, it can be someone like me for whom lactation care is one part of their day-to-day job.

What led you to seek out this certification?

Most medical schools or physician assistant programs don’t spend much time talking about lactation. And to be honest, a lot of the world doesn’t spend much time talking about lactation. Maybe this is because our culture has sexualized breasts and told women they shouldn’t breastfeed in public. Maybe this is because many healthcare providers aren’t well trained in lactation. Whatever the reason, I find that many of our expectant patients don’t feel very confident about their ability to breastfeed. I wanted to be able to better prepare our patients for feeding their baby so they feel empowered to seek out help if they are struggling and feel more confident in their ability to care for their baby whether they decide to breastfeed, pump and bottle feed, or formula feed.

What kinds of patients will benefit from your training?

All of our pregnant and postpartum patients! Especially those who have questions about breastfeeding/chestfeeding, those who have struggled with breastfeeding in past pregnancies, those who are currently breastfeeding and are experiencing pain or other breastfeeding concerns.

As I mentioned, IBCLC’s have a lot more breastfeeding training than I do so my goal of becoming a CLE was not to replace the IBCLC’s that we refer patients to but rather to become a better breastfeeding advocate. For example, if your baby is having health problems such as jaundice or not gaining weight, that should be managed by your baby’s pediatrician and an IBCLC.

How can patients schedule time with you? Is it a separate appointment?

For our pregnant patients with a few general questions, I am happy to answer those when I see them for their routine OB appointments.  (And I strongly recommend all of our patients take a breastfeeding class before baby arrives, because even though your breasts were made for breastfeeding, it can still be really hard!)

For our postpartum breastfeeding/chestfeeding patients with breast pain or other concerns, they can schedule a separate appointment which is usually covered by insurance. If needed after that appointment, we can then get them set up with an IBCLC—we have some fabulous IBCLCs in our community!

Is there anything else you would like patients to know?

The human body is amazing and breastmilk is no different. Human breastmilk reduces your baby’s risk of infections, allergies, obesity, and childhood and adulthood cancers. It also primes their babies’ tiny guts and gets them set up with a healthy microbiome. For parents who breastfeed/chestfeed, it can reduce their lifetime risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease. To optimize these benefits, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months and then continuing to breastfeeding until baby is a year or two but every little bit of breastmilk you can give your baby is a huge gift – even if it’s not as much as you originally planned.

While breastfeeding can have many benefits for both baby and parent, everyone’s parenting journey is different and they often don’t go as planned. There are several reasons why parents chose not to exclusively breastfeed or not breastfeed at all – so trust your instincts!  Our goal at Clinic Sofia is to make sure our patients feel supported no matter what parenthood brings.


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We use Fairview Southdale Hospital and Maple Grove Hospital for labor, delivery and surgical procedures.


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