Breastfeeding During a Pandemic: The Influence of COVID-19 on Lactation Services in the Northeastern United States

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J Hum Lact. 2021 Mar 18:8903344211003898. doi: 10.1177/08903344211003898. Online ahead of print.


BACKGROUND: Pandemic-related restrictions have limited traditional models of lactation support.

RESEARCH AIMS: The primary aim of this study was to determine changes to breastfeeding support services during the coronavirus-2019 pandemic according to trained lactation providers. The secondary aim was to assess strengths and limitations of telehealth services.

METHODS: A prospective survey was conducted entirely online using the Qualtrics platform during June 2020. Gatekeepers at Connecticut agencies and breastfeeding networks were forwarded an anonymous survey link to distribute to eligible lactation staff.

RESULTS: A variety of participants (N = 39) completed the survey and the majority (69.2%; n = 27) were providing only telehealth services. More than half (58.1%; n = 18) of the participants who conducting telehealth in any form, found that virtual lactation support was moderately effective compared to in-person support. Weakness of virtual support included technical and logistical difficulties, challenges assisting with latching or reading body language over the phone or online, and accurately assessing infant growth. Strengths related to virtual support included the flexibility and convenience of home-based support, expanded communication strategies, and safety from virus exposure. Further, visits with a lactation professional decreased significantly during the pandemic. Limited in-hospital and pediatrician support were also noted, particularly among groups without access to telehealth resources.

CONCLUSIONS: As a result of the pandemic and associated shifts in lactation services, breastfeeding disparities may be further exacerbated among those without equitable access to lactation support. Challenges and innovations in virtual support may influence adaptive options in the field moving forward.

PMID:33730895 | DOI:10.1177/08903344211003898