One of the first federally funded studies to evaluate the impact of breastfeeding support through telemedicine has shown promising results. Researchers at the RAND Corporation found that women with access to “tele-lactation” had higher rates of breastfeeding compared to a control group. Over a two-year period, a Pennsylvania hospital offered women free postpartum access to Pacify, an app which instantly connects mothers to unlimited video visits with International Board-Certified Lactation Consultants, 24/7.
- 50% of women offered Pacify made at least one call through the Pacify app and 33% had a substantive clinical consultation.
- 87% said the Pacify app was helpful, and 91% were satisfied with the help they received.
- At 12 weeks the Pacify group showed >7% higher overall breastfeeding rates (73% vs. 68% in control).
- At 12 weeks the Pacify group showed 24% higher exclusive breastfeeding rates (56% vs. 45% in control).
Researchers were surprised to see utilization between 33% - 50%, "which is quite high when you consider that when telehealth is offered to a population, you typically see uptake of <1% - 20%," said researcher Lori Uscher-Pines.
The most common challenges that the moms in the study expressed were:
- Breast pain, soreness, and infection (30% of participants).
- Use of nipple shields (25% of participants).
- Latch or positioning (24% of participants).
Increased tele-lactation use was associated with returning to work (<12 weeks). Additionally, tele-lactation use was higher among women with negative health risk factors including smoking during pregnancy, obesity, and c-sections – suggesting that such tele-access may disproportionately benefit more complex patients.
The results of the study are consistent with the outcomes Pacify observes with other non-hospital partners, including health plans, state departments of health, and WIC programs. “These findings represent important validation for Pacify and exciting momentum for emerging telehealth specialties like lactation,” said George Brandes, Pacify COO. “We’re especially gratified to see that mothers with significant health risk factors actually used Pacify more, not less. Telemedicine is not a panacea but where it works, it can work wonders.”
While these results are promising, more comprehensive research on telelactation is needed. Given the relatively small number of participants this study involved, follow up research is planned with a larger intervention group to give the findings greater power. The study was originally published in Academic Pediatrics, and qualitative papers about it have been published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and the National Center for Biotechnology Research.