In response, one health startup exec highlighted the massive shortage of professional support — and the hidden cost — that's preventing some parents from doing so.
In the hospital, after the birth of a child, parents are offered the support of a lactation consultant who specializes in breastfeeding issues and is a certified health professional. This person helps parents and babies learn how to feed, teaches moms how to navigate their milk supply, helps with breastfeeding positions, teaches them how to use a breast pump, and also troubleshoots any issues that arise.
Despite the importance of these jobs, there's a massive shortage of these consultants: There are only four board-certified lactation consultants for every 1,000 babies that are born, according to Amanda Gorman, founder and CEO of telehealth startup Nest Collaborative.
'I was hell-bent on getting coverage'
Gorman's company, Nest Collaborative, offers virtual lactation support to help new moms through breastfeeding. (Gorman is a pediatric nurse practitioner.) Since last year, her company's user base has grown by 450%, and Gorman has worked with 8,000 individual families.
On a macro level, she said, breastfeeding support isn't uniform across races, which also creates a hidden cost for some new moms. Many of the existing inequities in health care that put minorities in disadvantaged positions resurface when it comes to lactation.
According to a 2021 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 84.1% of new moms started breastfeeding last year, but that number ranged by ethnicity. More than 90% of Asian moms breastfed, compared to 73.6% of Black moms.
"Is a Black mother just as likely to receive the same care, regardless of the availability of the provider, ... as a white mother?" Gorman asked. "The answer is, unfortunately, no."
On top of the shortage of consultants, it can be expensive to speak with one if the visit isn't covered by insurance, she said.
Gorman works with 50 lactation consultants that speak eight languages — from Urdu to Haitian Creole. She said that when she tried to build up video visits for moms with lactation consultants, "I knew firsthand that the insurance companies were not paying" despite it being covered under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), "so I was hell-bent on getting coverage by the insurance companies."
Gorman noted that when she launched her company in 2017, women on her platform were also struggling to find out how to get a breast pump — even though the ACA mandates coverage for one. At the same time, there were additional costs that were preventing people from addressing the shortage.
Another reason why there simply aren't enough lactation consultants around is due to the high barriers to entry. "Obtaining the credential is very difficult for them and very expensive for them," Gorman explained.
And even though there are many specialists who exist that can help moms through breastfeeding, "there's been such a silo of lactation support [in the hospital system], which is bonkers given that this is how you grow and develop a human," she added.
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.