Lactation Counselor Sues Georgia Over New Licensing Rules

ATLANTA (CN) — A Georgia breastfeeding counselor sued the state on Monday to stop new licensing requirements she says interferes with the constitutional rights of those in her profession.

In a complaint filed in the Fulton County Superior Court, plaintiff Mary Jackson says she has worked as a certified lactation counselor for 28 years, and currently serves as a breastfeeding consultant with the Grady Health System’s Women, Infants and Children program.

Jackson says her work entailed counseling new mothers about breastfeeding, teaches breastfeeding topics to doctors and nurses, and supports mothers in reaching their breastfeeding goals.

But Jackson says her work will abruptly end if the Georgia Lactation Consultant Practice Act is allowed to go into effect on July 1, as scheduled.

The Act requires breastfeeding consultants to hold a privately-issued International Board Certified Lactation Consultant certification.

Once the law goes into effect, lactation consultants without the certification will be prohibited from providing lactation assessments, creating a lactation care plan for new mothers, or “evaluat[ing] outcomes.”

Jackson and her co-plaintiffs, Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere Inc., contend “The Act appears to have been adopted by people who fundamentally do not understand how lactation care and services are provided on the ground.”

According to the complaint, there are more than 800 lactation counselors in Georgia who, after July 1, will no longer be legally allowed to provide services to new mothers in exchange for payment.

The complaint states that the Secretary of State has issued less than 100 lactation consultant licenses as of Monday.

The plaintiffs say that around 10,800 babies are born in Georgia each month.

“Given the current number of licensed lactation consultants in Georgia, on July 1, there will be fewer than one licensed lactation consultant for every 1,300 babies born annually,” says the complaint filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by Yasha Heidari of Norcross, Georgia.

Minorities and rural Georgians will be most affected under the new law, Jackson says.

“Not only are [International Board Certified Lactation Consultants] unavailable in most parts of the state, they are frequently more expensive and associated with hospitals and other intimidating institutions,” the complaint says.

The complaint alleges that the new law improperly excludes care providers other than International Board Certified Lactation Counselors from providing breastfeeding support and violates the Georgia Constitution’s equal protection and due process guarantees.

“The Act defeats its own purpose of promoting public health because it will, overnight, put hundreds of highly qualified lactation consultants (like Mary Jackson) out of business. This will dramatically reduce breastfeeding support statewide, particularly in the minority and rural communities where [Certified Lactation Counselors] are most active,” the complaint says.

“The Act will also affirmatively harm public health and welfare by reducing access to already hard-to-find breastfeeding support,” the complaint claims.

Certified lactation counselors must “complete 45 hours of breastfeeding-specific training, demonstrate competency in breastfeeding counseling, assessment, and support skills, and pass an exam.”

To remain certified, certified lactation counselors must take a minimum of 18 hours of continuing education courses every three years, the complaint states.

To become an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, the complaint says, “an individual must complete 8 college level health and science courses, 6 health related continuing education courses, a minimum of 300 hours of supervised clinical experience, and pass an exam.”

To remain certified, International Board Certified Lactation Consultants must complete 75 hours of continuing education every five years and retake and pass the exam every ten years, the complaint says.

According to the complaint, Georgia’s Occupational Regulation Review Council determined that except in high-risk situations, certified lactation counselors and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants are equally competent to provide lactation care and services.

“Licensing lactation consultants does nothing to protect public health and safety,” Wesley Hottot, an attorney at the Institute for Justice, said in a statement Monday. “This license will harm the public by making it harder—if not impossible—for new moms to find someone to help them with breastfeeding. In Georgia, the courts have a responsibility to strike down unnecessary and burdensome regulations that have no clear public benefit. We expect the Court will strike down this law.”

Georgia State House Health and Human Services Chairwoman, Rep. Sharon Cooper, who sponsored the Act in 2016, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jackson and Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere Inc. claim that the Act violates the Georgia Constitution’s equal protection clause and due process guarantees. They are seeking a temporary restraining order barring the Secretary of State from enforcing the Act while the complaint is pending.

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