Lactation education

Georgia lactation counselor law unconstitutional, judge says

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia law that requires people who provide breastfeeding care and services to be licensed by the state and only allows people who have obtained specific certification to be licensed violates the Constitution of state, a judge ruled.

A provision of the 2016 law requires people who provide “breastfeeding care and services” to be certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants. This certification requires college-level coursework, hands-on training, and at least 300 hours of supervised clinical work.

A lawsuit filed in June 2018, just before the provision took effect, argued that the requirement would force many people who help mothers who want to breastfeed out of work. It was filed on behalf of Mary Jackson, who has helped new mothers struggling with breastfeeding for three decades, and the nonprofit organization she helped found to educate families of color about the breastfeeding, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere, or ROSE.

Some people who have provided breastfeeding support have no certification. Others, including Jackson, are certified lactation consultants, which requires 45 hours of training. The lawsuit argued that many mothers just need practical help to start breastfeeding, but don’t need the clinical help provided by consultants certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Eric Dunaway ruled Thursday that the law violated the equal protection guarantees of the Georgia Constitution and barred the state from enforcing it.

He found that certified lactation consultants and lactation consultants certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants “do the same job and are equally competent to provide lactation care and services to mothers and babies.”

“After reviewing the record and the applicable law, the Court concludes that there is no rational reason to treat the two groups differently,” Dunaway wrote.

“The Court recognized that preventing fully competent lactation consultants from doing their jobs does not protect the public, but rather reduces access to breastfeeding care and violates constitutional rights,” said attorney Renée Flaherty of the Institute for Justice, which filed the lawsuit.

The lawsuit had argued that the law would have disproportionately harmed women in rural areas and low-income and minority communities because their access to certified lactation consultants is limited and other lactation professionals who are more easily accessible to them accessible would not have been authorized to provide certain services.

After the complaint was filed, the retainer was placed on hold pending the outcome of the litigation.