As a Lactation Consultant offering in-home support, the idea of "virtual lactation consults" was really scary for me. How can I adequately assess a baby's sucking skills without being hands on?! I thought. But as 2020 changed the world, more and more lactation consultants were providing virtual consultations, and soon there was an expectation for access to virtual breastfeeding help. Today, insurance covers virtual lactation consults, and many parents love the idea, but struggle with the "how". In this article, I will do my best to help you understand how you can get the same high quality of care during a virtual lactation support visit as you can with in-person support.
What can virtual lactation consultants help with via telehealth?
Virtual Lactation Consultants can utilize telehealth to increase access to breastfeeding help in many ways, including:
Prenatal Breastfeeding Consultations / Breastfeeding Risk Assessments
Offering LIVE, pre-recoreded, and private breastfeeding classes (sometimes even covered by insurance!)
Postpartum Breastfeeding Support
Back to work planning
Low milk supply
Painful Latch and Sore Nipples
Low weight gain
Benefits of Virtual Lactation Consultants
The benefits of working with a virtual lactation consultant include:
Access breastfeeding help no matter where you're located - some regions have a lack of lactation consultants or you may not be near a lactation consultant covered by your insurance. Virtual Breastfeeding Support means more access for care
If you are concerned about bringing strangers around your baby or you or your baby are sick, you may prefer virtual lactation support
Virtual Breastfeeding Help can be a great option if you have simple or basic questions such as tips for weaning, starting solids, or returning to work
Telehealth is a great option for follow up visits when you've already had an in-person visit.
My favorite benefit is that parents have to take a very active role in the consult, which often fosters a stronger sense of confidence and helps parents learn strong self-advocacy skills, and better understand exactly what is going on with their baby
Downside of Virtual Breastfeeding Support
Virtual Breastfeeding Support comes with some drawbacks, of course.
Some challenges with virtual breastfeeding support include:
Inability for lactation consultant to be hands-on with position changes and examinations
Inability to perform immediate weight checks - depending on your child's situation, it may be recommended to rent a baby scale from a local Durable Medical Equipment provider to maximize effectiveness of lactation support
Heavy reliance on technology (ie power outages, internet outages, lack of access to technology can make lactation support inaccessible)
Lactation Consultant may not have familiarity with your local resources for referrals to local providers for additional therapies like chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, PT/OT, tongue-tie release providers, etc. (although your lactation consultant will likely be very happy to help you seek local providers and tap into her professional network for possible provider recommendations)
How does Virtual Lactation Help work?
Every lactation consultant runs their virtual consultations a little differently. As I continue learning, my virtual lactation consult approach is continuing to evolve. Currently, this is how I provide virtual lactation care:
Step 1: Client submits appointment request, checks insurance coverage through TLN, Tricare East, or selects self pay (FSA/HSA eligible, discounts for Medicaid and Tricare West).
Step 2: Lactation Consultant holds requested date and sends email with necessary administrative paperwork including Care Consent and Finanicial Agreements.
Step 3: Client submits paperwork and appointment is officially confirmed.
Step 4: Lactation consultant will send intake forms that ask detailed questions about your medical history, baby's medical history, breastfeeding experience, etc. Your lactation consultant will also send instructions on videos to take of your baby and breastfeeding to send to lactation consultant via HIPAA compliant communication platform to help assist in lactation consultants "virtual examination". Step 5: CONSULT DAY! You'll "arrive" to your apointment and your lactation consultant will review your and your baby's history, breastfeeding experience, and ask more detailed questions about your experience. Your lactation consultant will observe a feeding session, make suggestions as necessary on adaptations to make, walk you through a suck test and oral exam on your baby, and help you understand the findings. After this assessment that lasts anywhere between 30-45 minutes, your lactation consultant will begin brainstorming a care plan with you. This care plan could include changes to your feeding routines, adjusting your pumping schedule, recommendations to purchase feeding devices, demonstrations for suck training exercises and other oral motor exercises, demonstration of position changes, referrals to complimentary providers, recommendations for blood work for mom, etc. Your lactation consultant will always make sure to prioritize your breastfeeding goals and educate you on why interventions are recommended. At the end of your appointment, after making sure your care plan seems "doable" for your family's needs, you will be recommended to schedule a follow up visit. Your follow up visit may be just a few days later to help guide through setting up a supplemental nursing system, for example, or may be a week or more later based on your needs.
Step 6: After your virtual lactation consult, your lactation consultant will send a report to your pediatrician/midwife/OBGYN as necessary. Your lactation consultant will also ask for information for any complementary care providers to send them a report as necessary to ensure continuity of care and quality communication between providers.
Step 7: Lactation Consultant will send you a copy of your care plan via email and any additional resources mentioned during your visit. Your lactation consultant will follow up with you via text or email days or weeks after your appointment to check in before your follow up to ensure everything is going okay and answer any questions that may have come up
As you can see, virtual lactation consultants do look a little different from in-home or office consultations, however they provide a wonderful opportunity for thorough, individualized lactation support, and provide parents with the skills to strongly advocate for their baby and take their care into their own hands by being an active participant in examinations. This active role in examination also helps parents gauge when breastfeeding is improving as they can look for changes in certain specific markers.
If you are ready to book your virtual lactation consultation, Jaimie accepts most major insurances (click here to check your coverage), TRICARE East, and self-pay. Jaimie offers a discount for MEDICAID and TRICARE West families, and is able to accept FSA/HSA payments as well. Don't miss out on quality lactation support, book your virtual lactation consult today!
Jaimie Zaki is a nurse, birth doula, and lactation consultant (IBCLC) dedicated to supporting mothers through pregnancy and postpartum. Jaimie's mission is to help mothers find confidence through birth and breastfeeding. Jaimie offers breastfeeding classes, birth plan consults, prenatal lactation consultations, postpartum breastfeeding help, in person breastfeeding help in Wichita Falls, TX and Lawton, OK, and provides virtual breastfeeding help nationwide via telehealth lactation consults. Jaimie is an Air Force Wife and homeschooling mother of four!