The role of providers and health plans in breastfeeding support

According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, a time to recognize the potential benefits of breastfeeding for both parent and child. Specifically, the last full week of August has been dedicated to Black mothers.

Studies have cited numerous benefits to breastfeeding, including reducing the risk of infections, allergies, and chronic diseases in infants, and lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in mothers. Despite these benefits, mothers today still face barriers to successful breastfeeding, some of which originate within the healthcare ecosystem. There are some simple ways providers and payers can help promote successful breastfeeding education, access, and strategies to patients and members.

How can healthcare impact breastfeeding success?

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), common barriers to breastfeeding include a lack of knowledge and skills, social norms and attitudes, work and employment issues, and inadequate support from healthcare providers. While some of these barriers are outside of the healthcare provider’s control, organizations and caregivers can play a crucial role in supporting mothers who choose to breastfeed.

Though reports indicate that so-called “baby-friendly” hospitals are on the rise, not all healthcare providers are equipped to provide adequate breastfeeding support. The NIH notes that some hospitals may inadvertently harm breastfeeding outcomes through practices such as early formula supplementation and separation of mother and baby, which are associated with a decreased likelihood of exclusive breastfeeding at six months.

This is particularly concerning for Black mothers, who already face significant disparities in breastfeeding rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black mothers disproportionately experience a lack of support for breastfeeding and employment:

  • 69% of Black mothers initiate breastfeeding, compared to 85% of white mothers.
  • 17% of Black mothers exclusively breastfeed at six months, compared to 32% of white mothers.

Patient education and post-partum care

Lack of education is a frequent contributor to breastfeeding cessation. While more hospitals are offering access to lactation consultants and more baby friendly services, generally a new parent’s hospital stay represents only a small part of the journey to establishing a successful breastfeeding routine.

In order to drive better success in breastfeeding, especially among mothers of color, making educational tools available across multiple modalities and on demand is a critical gap in many patients’ post-partum care.

Filling this gap will require collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem.

How do healthcare providers continue to advance breastfeeding support?

Healthcare providers are on the front lines of providing breastfeeding support. In a recent survey, the majority of more than 1,000 patients polled identified their care provider as their preferred source of answers for follow-up questions. However, immediate access to a physician is not always feasible, or necessary. Thus, a trusted technology solution can go a long way to scaling impact, provided it is the right solution.

When formulating an educational program for new parents seeking to breastfeed, healthcare providers should consider:

  • Clinical content. The educational tools and materials providers are offering to patients must be evidence-based and align with the most current clinical guidelines and recommendations.
  • User experience. Great content won’t support a frustrated new parent if it is not easily accessible.
  • Respect for a patient’s perspective. Given the racial disparities in breastfeeding success, healthcare providers must select a partner that has a strong track record of providing diverse, equitable, and inclusive content.

Health plans and payers have a role in supporting new moms

Today’s payers play a bigger role in their members’ lives than simply footing the bill. During the crucial first days of motherhood, payers can become part of the available resources for new parents and help providers with outreach and education.

Breastfeeding education is a natural fit into most payers’ existing care management programs. Like providers, however, payers must consider several key factors in selecting what tools they wish to offer:

  • Alignment. Chances are new parents do not have an abundance of time to sort through and evaluate multiple resources. Payers must pick educational content that aligns with advice given by providers so members know it can be trusted and followed.
  • Access. Payers, rightly, focus a lot on meeting members where they are – and in the case of breastfeeding support, that is doubly important. Whether the member is in front of a computer or has a mobile device in hand, outreach must come where it will be most impactful.
  • Inclusivity. Member education is only effective if it can engage all members, so ensuring that the educational tools feature faces, voices, and languages that can address a diverse membership is critical.

Measuring the impact of breastfeeding support resources

Adding to patient and member support programs requires budget and resources, so payers and providers alike will want to confirm that these initiatives can truly have an impact.

Since both support and knowledge are impediments to successful breastfeeding, adding in educational tools can help to meet these. For example, an Emmi Patient Engagement Solutions survey of more than 3,000 parents-to-be conducted over three years highlighted some key results showing the power of its breastfeeding content:

  • Nearly 70% of viewers said the program increased their confidence to ask questions.
  • More than 70% ranked the program as the most helpful tool they’d used in preparing for breastfeeding.

Both payers and providers can also help establish trust and make an impact with such programs, as shown by:

  • Nearly 75% of respondents said the program improved their opinion of the organization that gave it to them.
  • 86% said the program motivated them to take new actions related to their health.

This is just one example of many such programs that can help new parents achieve their breastfeeding goals while delivering sound results to healthcare organizations.

Identifying the right partner for breastfeeding awareness outreach

Breastfeeding support requires the right partner to provide aligned, clinically relevant, and trusted content. While many patient education technologies are available, not everyone can fit this bill.

Emmi patient engagement solutions provide education and support for a range of health topics, including breastfeeding, through targeted outreach to patients and members pre- and post-visit/procedure, helping to drive positive outcomes. With integrated technology, Emmi gives patients access to articles, videos, and other supportive content, delivered across multiple modalities.

Emmi users really do the best job of explaining the ‘whys’ of this solution, with one survey respondent saying, “I learned a lot of information for being a first-time mother. The information will help me when I start breastfeeding.”

Many such tools exist to continue to support parents on their breastfeeding journey, and payers and providers can help provide support to help overcome breastfeeding barriers.

Learn more about patient education and engagement solutions.

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