Mary Jackson, a lactation counselor with Grady Health System with 28 years of experience, is suing the state over a law requiring her to be licensed by the state. Maya T. Prabhu/

Lactation consultants sue state over Georgia law requiring licensing

For 28 years, Mary Jackson has helped new mothers learn how to nurse their babies.

She serves as a breastfeeding consultant with Grady Health System’s women, infants and children program.

Jackson said she will no longer be able to offer the service she’s provided for nearly three decades when a deadline for her to be licensed by the state goes into effect Sunday. She filed a lawsuit Monday asking the court to stop the new licensing requirements.

Lawmakers in 2016 approved a law that requires lactation consultants to be licensed by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. To receive the license, a consultant must hold a certification from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners.

Jackson said there are more than 800 lactation counselors in Georgia who, after Sunday, could no longer legally provide services to new moms. There are 95 consultants licensed by the state.

Since 2016, consultants could apply for state licensing.

Consultants must take 14 college courses in health science, complete 90 hours of breastfeeding education, work 1,000 clinical hours providing lactation services and pass a written exam to become certified.

Jackson said the process is too expensive for many counselors. Many of them are already certified by the nonprofit Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, an Atlanta-based organization that works to promote breastfeeding in communities of color.

Counselors such as Jackson go through a week of training and take an exam. There is no hands-on component to the training.

The counselors filed a civil suit Monday against Secretary of State Brian Kemp — whose office oversees state licensing boards — and members of the Lactation Consultant Advisory Group, saying the new law is unconstitutional.

The Hands-Free Georgia Act takes effect July 1.

State House Health and Human Services Chairwoman Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, said with Georgia’s high rates of infant mortality and maternal deaths, it benefits mothers and children to have health professionals who are highly trained. Cooper sponsored the legislation creating the licensing requirement.

“I believe our state needs to be encouraging people to further their education and recognize people who have achieved a higher level of education and have greater expertise in their area,” she said.

The counselors are asking the judge to stop the law from going into effect Sunday while the case is pending.

“Licensing lactation consultants does nothing to protect public health and safety,” said Wesley Hottot, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing the counselors and supports smaller government. “This license will harm the public by making it harder — if not impossible — for new moms to find someone to help them with breastfeeding.”

Cooper said the counselors will still be able to educate mothers on the benefits and mechanics of breastfeeding.

“I certainly recognize the value of all levels of breastfeeding care for mothers,” she said. “Just like there’s different levels of nursing care, there are different levels of knowledge with the people that are providing breastfeeding information for patients.”

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