Telemedicine Opens Virtual Doors For Breastfeeding Support In Contra Costa
August 2, 2010
Low-income mothers will receive breastfeeding support via video-conferencing technology under a pilot project launched recently at county Health Centers in Martinez, Antioch and Brentwood. The project is the result of a partnership between Contra Costa Health Services, the Health Care Interpreter Network and Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit. World Breastfeeding Week is this week, August 1-7.
The Breastfeeding Education and Support using Telemedicine project—or BEST—is the brainchild of Dr. Diana Mahar, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, who saw a gap in services between breastfeeding support provided to new mothers in the hospital and the support available in the clinic setting after they were discharged.
"Breastfeeding can be challenging in the first few weeks and many women give up too soon," Dr. Mahar said. "Getting some practical help might really make it easier to breastfeed."
BEST aims to channel that practical help through clinical settings. Using existing video technology developed for the Health Care Interpreter Network, providers can establish a secure video link to a breastfeeding support counselor so new mothers can have a private video consultation from their primary care clinic. The peer counselor—trained by Contra Costa Health Services' Women, Infants and Children Program—will provide support, information and resources.
"Low-income women have fewer choices to obtain breastfeeding support," Dr. Mahar said. "Hopefully, this will help women struggling with multiple doctor visits to make breastfeeding work out for them."
The Health Care Interpreter Network received a grant from Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit to pilot medical uses of the technology. If successful, the service could expand to other county and community health centers and new applications of telemedicine could be developed, such as specialty appointments or consultation.
Research has shown significant health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby. Recently, there is increasing emphasis to breastfeed exclusively. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends newborns breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life and continue to breastfeed for at least the first year of life. Breastfeeding is associated with reduced risk of infections, diabetes, cancer, obesity and a host of other conditions.
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