The Emergence and Promise of Telelactation

Published in: American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology [Epub May 2017]. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2017.04.043

Posted on RAND.org on June 02, 2017

by Lori Uscher-Pines, Ateev Mehrotra, Debra L. Bogen

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Research Questions

  1. What telelactation services—lactation support over two-way video—are being offered?
  2. Does telelactation support help moms establish or continue breastfeeding?

Although professional breastfeeding support positively influences breastfeeding behaviors, access to International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) is limited in many communities. Recognizing their unique role in the provision of breastfeeding support, the Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding identifies increasing access to IBCLCs as a policy priority. Since 2015, a number of direct-to-consumer telelactation services have emerged to increase convenient access to professional breastfeeding support. This innovation in healthcare delivery allows IBCLCs to connect with breastfeeding mothers in their homes through 2-way video on personal devices such as tablets and smartphones. In this Viewpoint, we discuss the recent emergence of this form of lactation support, describe the offerings, and discuss the potential of telelactation to transform the delivery of professional breastfeeding support.

Key Findings

  • Telelactation services are being offered through large telemedicine companies, small start-ups, and entrepreneurial consultants. Most consumers pay for these services out of pocket.
  • At least one company partners with some states to offer care to moms in rural areas that have no in-person consultants available within 200 miles.
  • Advantages of telelactation include convenient access from one's home, same-day problem solving, and triage of cases that need urgent in-person support.
  • Potential disadvantages include the possibility of moms receiving conflicting advice and physicians not being brought into the loop on medical issues.
  • Providers report high rates of customer satisfaction, but research has not evaluated whether telelacation support improves outcomes.

Recommendation

Studies should evaluate whether telelactation services improve breastfeeding outcomes, as well as whether they increase access to lactation support among mothers with low incomes or who live in rural communities.

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