OPINION: Licensing law ruling a victory for Georgia lactation consultants

In 2018, Mary Nicholson Jackson filed a petition to prevent the state from requiring lactation consultants to be licensed through a single certification known as IBCLC. Jackson has more than 30 years of experience as a lactation consultant and is co-founder of a non-profit that provides breastfeeding services to women. Photo credit: The Institute for Justice.

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In 2018, Mary Nicholson Jackson filed a petition to prevent the state from requiring lactation consultants to be licensed through a single certification known as IBCLC. Jackson has more than 30 years of experience as a lactation consultant and is co-founder of a non-profit that provides breastfeeding services to women. Photo credit: The Institute for Justice.

A law that would have required certain breastfeeding consultants to obtain the equivalent of an advanced degree was ruled unconstitutional by the Fulton County Superior Court late Thursday.

Last month, I wrote about the efforts of Mary Jackson and others to fight a law that passed in 2016 and would have required all lactation consultants in Georgia to be licensed by the secretary of state’s office.

ExploreOPINION: Law targeting Georgia lactation counselors could do more harm than good

Consultants would have to earn a specific certification from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners to be licensed and compensated — an effort that could require up to 300 to 1,000 hours of experience, two years of college courses and about $700 for an exam.

Jackson, co-founder of Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (ROSE) , a nonprofit dedicated to addressing breastfeeding disparities among people of color, challenged the law in partnership with attorneys from the Institute for Justice.

“The Court recognized that keeping perfectly competent lactation consultants from doing their jobs doesn’t protect the public, but instead reduces access to breastfeeding care and violates constitutional rights,” said Attorney Renée Flaherty in a statement. “Now, IBCLCs will have to think twice before pushing for more laws like this in other states.”

There are two main types of certification: Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC) and International Board Certified Lactation Counselors (IBCLC). In Georgia there are six or more CLCs per 1,000 live births compared to fewer than three IBCLCs per live birth, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Had the legislation been enforced, hundreds of CLCs would have had to get the IBCLC certification despite having years of experience and knowledge in breastfeeding.

When I wrote about this in February, I heard from so many women (and a few men) who expressed frustration over what seemed to be unnecessary government interference. Women in particular understand the challenges of breastfeeding. Even when we have the best intentions, having support can mean the difference between success or failure.

I consider myself lucky to have had a consultant who helped me through the challenging first few weeks of breastfeeding. She was not IBCLC certified and I’m not exaggerating to say I don’t know if I would have been able to breastfeed my daughter for 18 months without the assistance of my consultant.

The Supreme Court of Georgia unanimously declared that it has “long interpreted the Georgia Constitution as protecting a right to work in one’s chosen profession free from unreasonable government interference.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger will have 30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Let’s hope he also makes the right decision.

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