Virtual Breastfeeding Consultations - Meeting Millennials Where They Are At

breastfeeding virtual.pngMillennials ARE digital

The Millennial generation (also known as Generation Y) is defined as the population of current young adults who were born between the early 1980s to the late 1990s to even the early 2000s.  There may be some debate about the exact years defining the bookends of this generation, but make no mistake, no one will argue with the fact that the Millennial generation is our first full generation of digital natives. A digital native is a person born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age. 

Millennials have grown up with digital devices that bundle communication, social connection, entertainment, shopping, mapping, and education all in one. From an early age, smartphone use has been the norm. Millennials have always had access to the Internet at home and in school.  They cannot imagine going through daily life without being able to access any information they seek with a quick entry of a few words on a tiny screen.

These Millennials are today's pregnant and birthing families.  Digitally connected 24/7 and comfortable with finding and accessing information and answers to all of their pregnancy, birth and parenting questions online, these parents do not hesitate to "google" what they need when it comes to challenges and questions that come up during the childbearing year.

Lamaze International has recognized this trend and several years ago stepped up to meet this challenge by offering online childbirth classes, including a breastfeeding class, that parents could access in addition to in-person education.  Families have enjoyed and learned valuable information from these online portals as they prepare to welcome their babies.

Breastfeeding is often the next big challenge after birth

In the days after birth, getting breastfeeding well established is a common concern amongst new families.  Many new parents appreciate or even require the assistance of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to help them with latch, positioning and the common problems that might occur when establishing breastfeeding with a newborn.  The idea of getting themselves and their newborn to a breastfeeding clinic can be overwhelming.  If such a qualified individual is available in their area, the next appointment might be several days out.  A wait such as this may have serious consequences for a parent-newborn dyad who are trying to get breastfeeding off to a good start.  For other families, there are no IBCLCs in their community or transportation issues may be a problem

Virtual lactation visits

American Well - a large telehealth organization, in collaboration with Online Care Group (their clinician practice partners), offers virtual breastfeeding appointments with an IBCLC to health insurance companies, employers, health plans, pharmacies and other organizations.  Virtual breastfeeding consultations are just one type of on-demand virtual appointment that consumers can participate in along with primary care, pediatrics, psychiatry, therapy, and nutrition services.

Through a smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer equipped with a simple camera and microphone, a new parent can meet virtually with an IBCLC who may be located 3000 miles away from their location.  The initial visit costs $130 for up to a 50-minute initial intake visit, and $75 for follow-up, 25-minute visits.  This cost may be covered by insurance plans.

According to American Well, the IBCLCs are prepared to address the following common issues during a virtual visit:

  • Latching issues
  • Milk supply
  • Breast tenderness
  • Persistently hungry baby
  • Returning to work
  • Pumping
  • Plugged milk ducts
  • Mastitis
  • Sore nipples
  • Thrush
  • Oversupply
  • Weaning
Visits may be accessed on demand or can be booked in the next hours or within 24 hours of initiating contact.  Health consumers can have follow-up care and appointments with the same lactation consultant who did the first initial visit if they wish. 

Benefits of a virtual lactation visituse this.jpg

  • Opportunity for families to access help if they do not have easy access to a knowledgeable source in their community.
  • Often able to be seen more quickly by an IBCLC virtually than in person
  • Resolves the transportation issues some people may have
  • May be covered by some insurance plans
  • Reassuring to new parents to speak with an expert who can evaluate the circumstances
  • Referrals can be made to seek help from a local pediatrician or Emergency Department visit if there is a critical situation
  • Millennials are very comfortable with this type of technology support

Potential drawbacks of a virtual lactation visit

  • Nothing takes the place of an in-person observation for building relationships and accurately evaluating the situation
  • May not be covered by insurance, and can be expensive, especially if multiple visits are needed.
  • The LC is not able to weigh the baby or conduct before and after feed weight checks.
  • The lactation consultant may not be able to accurately assess latch if viewing through a camera on a device.
  • Difficult to assess Tethered Oral Tissues (tongue ties) without evaluating the baby directly
  • If the consumer is not satisfied, I am not sure what avenues are available to them to get a refund

Health care of the future?

Are virtual lactation visits, along with other virtual care appointments what health care consumers can expect in the future?  Is this a cost-effective, evidence-based means of delivering care, especially to those who would have trouble accessing health care in more traditional methods? Does this meet the needs of today's Millennials who grew up with this type of technology from a young age?  

Are you a lactation consultant who has offered such services? What has been your experience in offering such care? Childbirth educators and other birth professionals, how do you feel about referring students and clients to access help from a virtual IBCLC?  Are you a parent who has received care from a lactation consultant in a virtual consult?  How would you describe your experience?  Let us know in the comments section of the blog.

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