Feb 2, 2022 • 4 min read

Virtual Visits: Best Practices for Lactation Consultants

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Lactation consultants have a long history of helping people and families after birth, but lactation support services have historically been provided face-to-face. While supporting breastfeeding is “hands-on” by nature, the use of video visits is rapidly growing. The pandemic has presented a greater need to integrate video visits into lactation support services. Video visits may seem counterintuitive for lactation consultants, but providing services online may improve healthcare access for many breastfeeding people. 

Not all lactation consultants feel equipped to support families outside of their normal in-person settings. If you’re thinking of offering your lactation services online through virtual visits, here is some information to help you get started.  

Video visits, telehealth benefits, lactation consultants and families 

Why offer video visits as a lactation consultant? First, video visits offer the obvious potential to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and reduce the risk to both families and providers: a win for both. Online video visits may also provide an opportunity to expand your services to clients who otherwise have difficulty accessing lactation support because they live in rural areas or don’t know how to easily find an LC. 

Historically, there have been many barriers to accessing  lactation services, including a shortage of trained lactation consultants (1). These barriers disproportionately affect people of color, creating a health disparity that may be exacerbated by the pandemic. Virtual services can help bridge the gap for families that may otherwise not have access (2). 

Virtual visit recommendations for lactation consultants

Because of the pandemic, many organizations found themselves with an unprecedented need to provide guidance on telehealth services. The same was true for the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBCLE). Before the pandemic, telehealth services by lactation consultants were not commonplace and there was little guidance available. In April 2020, the IBCLE provided support for IBCLCs to provide telehealth services as long as they abide by local regulations and stay within their scope of practice (3). 

What does this recommendation mean for you as a lactation professional? As a best practice, you should be familiar with and comfortable with providing video visits services to people and families in need of breastfeeding support. 

Video can change type of visits you offer

All LCs are familiar with that call from the new parent with the cracked, bleeding nipples who wants to give up on breastfeeding. Good lactation intervention early in the breastfeeding process can reduce these tear-filled calls. Here, proactive video visits are key. How can you be proactive as an LC? Stepping in to help a breastfeeding person early and before problems start or worsen will make video visit telehealth services more effective. 

Getting started with online video visits as a lactation consultant

Before you offer your lactation support online, set up your workspace in a well-lit area with a strong Wi-Fi connection. Make a list of the lactation support services you’ll offer online, and a list of services you will reserve for in-person visits. 

Providing adequate guidance to the client on how to best connect for the video visit before the visit will help you have a smooth session. Ask the client to have all of their breastfeeding supplies and a glass of water and snacks nearby. A laptop or tablet will work best for interacting over video. If the client only has a smartphone, you can engage a partner or family member to assist in holding the camera when attempting to visualize latch or positioning. Don’t hesitate to ask the client to remove any distraction or background noise. Don’t forget to have your props for demonstration nearby, like a breast model and doll, breast pump, and nipple shield, before you initiate the session. 

Making video visits work for you and your lactation clients

Lactation consultants play an essential role in supporting new families. Despite some “hand-on” limitations, video visits telehealth offers tangible benefits to both clients and LCs. These visits allow clients to receive assistance and support in the comfort and safety of their home, especially during a pandemic. Offering your services online reduces risks of COVID-19 transmission, all while reducing barriers to accessing care. Reducing barriers can improve confidence and motivation in breastfeeding for the parent (1). 

As a lactation consultant, utilizing telehealth can help you grow your business. If you are interested in expanding your services and extending your reach, virtual visits provide an opportunity to engage families that may not otherwise have had access to your services. It may also improve continuity of care, allowing you to continue to serve clients longer than with  face-to-face service (4). 

If you have a busy practice and don’t want to widen your reach, providing video visits for some select services may add convenience and save you travel time. One study that surveyed lactation consultants who provided virtual visits services during the pandemic found links between telehealth and LC satisfaction. This study reported that the decrease in travel time and increase in convenience and flexibility for the consultant made telehealth services valuable to LCs (2). 

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  1. Gorman A. Preventive Lactation Support: Implementing An Evidence-Based Model into Primary Care through Technology and Collaboration. 2020 July; 146:131-132
  2. Schindler-Ruwisch J, Phillips KE. Breastfeeding During a Pandemic: The Influence of COVID-19 on Lactation Services in the Northeastern United States. Journal of Human Lactation. 2021 May;37(2):260-8.
  3. IBCLE Advisory Opinion on Telehealth. Available from: https://iblce.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/2020_April_IBLCE_Advisory_Opinion_Telehealth_FINAL.pdf?fbclid=IwAR3VpeBOK50maSkbDZWfFz7t_kAy7cHX6WwFSIxxuze73WFQpL29bcIKtXo
  4. Marcucci B. Use of Telehealth to Increase Breastfeeding Exclusivity and Duration. Clinical Lactation. 2018 May 1;9(2):66-71.