Experts Say Virtual Lactation Support Should Still Be Available After COVID-19

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Key Takeaways

  • Lactation support is crucial for many breastfeeding moms.
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person meetings were replaced by virtual lactation consulting on video platforms like Zoom.
  • Although we're gradually returning to normal life, experts believe virtual lactation services are here to stay.

For breastfeeding parents, the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to much of the in-person support they rely on. It can be particularly difficult to lose lactation support. Breastfeeding can be difficult for many, and the advice of postpartum doulas, support groups, and even family and friends can make the process much easier. Instead, virtual lactation consultants working via video platforms like Zoom and Google Meet filled the gap. 

Virtual lactation support has been available since before the pandemic; the Women's Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana has had it since 2018. Amid COVID-19 restrictions, these options expanded as many hospitals and clinics quickly put programs in place to meet new parents’ needs.

“Virtual lactation support was essential during the pandemic because breastfeeding can be really hard, especially during the first few weeks to months after giving birth,” says Jessica Madden, MD, IBCLC, a pediatrician and international board-certified lactation consultant who is the medical director at Aeroflow Breastpumps

In-Person vs. Virtual Lactation Support

In a study published in the Journal of Human Lactation in March 2021, the majority of healthcare providers surveyed found that virtual lactation support was “moderately effective” compared to in-person support.

There are obvious benefits of in-person lactation support. “I can examine a baby more thoroughly and if I have scales, I can weigh the baby to establish how much milk a baby takes in at the breast,” says Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, an international board-certified lactation consultant.

Dr. Madden is a huge advocate of in-person lactation support, especially in the home setting. One advantage is the ability to be able to observe breastfeeding and pumping sessions in real-time. In-person support also means consultants can help parents latch their babies on and try different breastfeeding positions, and they can examine the anatomy of mothers’ breasts and babies’ mouths and palates.

“For example, it’s really difficult to determine whether or not a newborn has a significant tongue-tie without being able to assess a baby’s suck and tongue movement with your gloved finger,” Dr. Madden explains. 

However, like most healthcare providers, lactation consultants have adapted to the changing times. “I have gotten good at guiding parents through physical assessments of their babies,” O’Connor says. 

Jessica Madden, MD, IBCLC

Virtual breastfeeding support fills the gap between comprehensive, in-person breastfeeding support and the complete absence of support that so many new moms encountered prior to the pandemic.

— Jessica Madden, MD, IBCLC

And there are many perks of virtual support, starting with the fact that you don’t need to leave your home! With a newborn baby and all the stuff they need, that’s no mean feat.

And geography isn’t an issue. If you have a phone, laptop, or computer and a decent WiFi connection, you can receive virtual support from anywhere in the world. This includes remote areas where in-person support might never have been available. "I'm based in New York City, but have had people join my support groups from California, North Carolina, and even Beirut," O'Connor says. 

Flexible scheduling is another advantage, says Dr. Madden. Many online breastfeeding consultation services provide 24/7 support and can accommodate last-minute scheduling. Conversely, it’s difficult for in-person lactation consultants to offer the same flexibility.

Virtual lactation support is also typically less expensive than in-person support, Dr. Madden adds. During the pandemic many health insurers began to reimburse providers for telemedicine, meaning virtual breastfeeding consults might even be covered by insurance.

Lactation Support After COVID-19

According to the Journal of Human Lactation study, most participants reported their patients largely preferred virtual visits to in-person visits during the height of the COVID—19 pandemic (March to June 2020).

The experts think virtual lactation support is here to stay. O’Connor believes there will be both in-person and virtual options and possibly hybrid groups that allow people to join live groups via video when they cannot attend in person. 

Madden agrees. “Virtual breastfeeding support fills the gap between comprehensive, in-person breastfeeding support and the complete absence of support that so many new moms encountered prior to the pandemic,” she says.  

Whether you get your lactation support in-person or over Zoom, it can be a vital step toward your feeding goals. “There is a great deal of information on the internet, but how babies feed and how people produce milk can vary widely,” explains O’Connor. “It can be like the Wild West out there, and with poor information, breastfeeding can be compromised.”

What This Means For You

While many hospitals plan to continue their virtual services in addition to their in-person ones, others don’t see the need to maintain remote assistance. But the beauty of virtual support is that you don’t need to get it from your local hospital. You can find it anywhere in the world, from the comfort of your home. 

Your pediatrician may be able to recommend a virtual lactation consultant, or you could search online to compare providers. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Schindler-Ruwisch J, Phillips KE. Breastfeeding during a pandemic: the influence of COVID-19 on lactation services in the Northeastern United States. J Human Lact. 2021; 37(2):260-268. doi:10.1177/08903344211003898

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Using telehealth to expand access to essential health services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Updated June 10, 2020.