Open Arms Perinatal Services’ Community Lactation Specialist Pathway Introduces Two New International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants of Color in Washington State 

December 19, 2023 11:28 am Published by

Lack of diversity within the field poses a barrier to families of color. This milestone heralds a transformative era for culturally responsive perinatal care. 


Media Contact: Elena M. Teare, 

SEATTLE, WA (December 19, 2023) – Two members of Open Arms Perinatal Services’ Community Lactation Specialist Pathway, Shevonne Tsegaye and Christa Lee, have passed their International Board-Certified Lactation Exams, introducing two new board-certified lactation consultants of color to Washington State.  

Open Arms’ Community Lactation Specialist Pathway is part of the Community Education program that provides free birth doula, childbirth education, and lactation counseling training to community members from underrepresented communities in birth work. Unlike traditional training models, Open Arms’ Community Education program centers ancestral and cultural practices, complementing the larger effort from Black, Indigenous, and other perinatal providers of color to broaden access to culturally responsive perinatal support. 

Community Education and Lactation Clinical Lead Elizabeth Montez, IBCLC, said: 

“Getting the news that Shevonne and Christa had passed their IBLCE exam truly brought tears to my eyes because it means so much to see more Black and Indigenous folks pull a seat up to this table. Lactation is a field that is severely lacking in representation and culturally relevant care, which puts families at risk. Conversely, as more lactation providers of color enter the profession, more families thrive. It has been my joy to support these fantastic Black and Indigenous providers on their journeys — the face of lactation is changing because we are uplifting each other and taking our seats at the table!”  

The Lactation Specialist Pathway covers the 95 hours of IBCLC Lactation Education requirements, and completion opens doors to optional mentorship and financial support for those interested in pursuing IBCLC certification. Graduates of the pathway are encouraged to “rematriate” their knowledge back to the community, seek IBCLC board certification, or join Open Arms as one of our direct service providers. 


International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are healthcare professionals specializing in clinical lactation support. In addition to passing the IBCLC exam, aspiring board-certified consultants must fulfill 95 hours of lactation education, health sciences higher education, and between 300 and 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, depending on previous professional credentials and education.  

As with other medical and paramedical professions, lactation consulting lacks diversity and culturally matched care. An estimated less than one percent of the United States’ more than 19,000 IBCLCs identify as Indigenous, one of whom is Open Arms’ Elizabeth Montez, IBCLC. An estimated less than three percent of the nation’s IBCLCs identify as Black.   

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breast/chestfed for the first six months of life and then for at least two years with complementary foods. IBCLCs and lactation counselors are essential in increasing breast/chestfeeding rates and adherence to clinical guidelines. IBCLCs support new parents with nursing techniques to reduce discomfort and provide education on infant nutrition. 


Although breast/chestfeeding is one of the most protective factors against infant morbidity – and Black and Indigenous babies experience a higher mortality rate than their White counterparts in King County – breast/chestfeeding rates among Black and Indigenous birthing people remain low 

The outcomes of Open Arms’ award-winning lactation program demonstrate that culturally matched and accessible perinatal support significantly increases the initiation and duration of breast/chestfeeding. In 2022, 91 percent of Open Arms families were still breast/chestfeeding at six months, compared to 29.5 percent across the state the same year.  


Shevonne Tsegaye, CLC, IBCLC, is a Senior Breastfeeding and Peer Counseling Consultant with the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) office at the Washington Department of Health and former Co-Lead of Open Arms’ Lactation Support Program. Shevonne acquired her IBCLC clinical hours through the Open Arms Lactation Peer Counseling program, with mentorship and testing support through our Community Lactation Specialist program.  

Christa Lee, CNM, IBCLC, is a Diné certified nurse-midwife, previously with Foothills Midwifery and the Center for Indigenous Midwifery‘s Cedar Medicine School of Midwifery. She joined the Open Arms IBCLC exam study group in early 2023 and received ongoing mentorship through the Community Lactation Specialist program.  

Applications for the 2024 Community Lactation Specialist Pathway cohort are accepted until January 22, 2024. Eligible applicants are persons of color working or living in King, Pierce, or Snohomish counties. Previous experience in birth work or lactation is not required.  


Founded in 1997, Open Arms is the first independent, community-based program in Washington State to provide comprehensive perinatal services to over four thousand economically marginalized families. We are a predominantly BIPOC organization that provides free support during pregnancy, birth, and early childhood with birth and community-based outreach doula services, lactation counseling, and social service referrals to over 500 families annually throughout the Puget Sound region.