Among the many questions Sue Bryant, MSN, RN, fields as a lactation consultant caring for patients in the Connors Center for Women and Newborns, there is one she has become especially accustomed to hearing: “Can you come home with me?”
Although perhaps asked half-jokingly, the question represents something bigger for Bryant and her colleagues: an unmet need.
Patients who have their baby at the Brigham can meet with nurse lactation consultants during their hospital stay to discuss how to fulfill their infant’s nutritional needs, whether that means breastfeeding, formula feeding, donor milk use or a combination of these sources.
When patients have expressed interest in continued assistance with breastfeeding after discharge, they were often disappointed to learn the Brigham had no such service in an outpatient setting, Bryant said.
Bryant and her colleagues are changing that with a new pilot program focused on delivering timely, expert lactation support in an outpatient clinic.
“Most of our moms leave the hospital having initiated breastfeeding, but depending on the type of birth they had, they might only be in the hospital for two or three days,” Bryant said. “This clinic is going to really enhance the Brigham experience by giving patients who choose to breastfeed a new option for continuity of care.”
Launched in October, the clinic serves postpartum patients in the Center for Child Development at 221 Longwood Ave. A typical appointment lasts 60 to 90 minutes, as a key part of the visit entails an observation of the infant breastfeeding. This leaves ample time to accommodate a baby who may not be awake or hungry at first.
The real-time evaluation enables Bryant, who is currently the pilot program’s sole lactation consultant, to identify and help mothers address any potential issues as they occur. Babies are weighed and assessed during each visit to monitor their progress.
Lucy Perrins, who visited the clinic with her husband, Charlie, and their son, Toby, said she was relieved to learn about the outpatient lactation service as the family readied for discharge from the hospital.
“As a new mother, you want reassurance that you’re doing an OK job,” Perrins said. “It was nice to leave the hospital and know we were going to see someone in just a few days. Then going back each week and seeing how much weight he’d gained or how far we’d come since the first visit assured us he was doing all right.”
An essential component of the outpatient program is ensuring timely access, Bryant said. Patients can book an appointment for as soon as a few days after discharge.
“Strong evidence shows that the most critical time to provide follow-up breastfeeding support is the first week after discharge,” she explained. “In many cases, the mom’s confidence level is still developing, yet the baby’s needs are very high, so you have very vulnerable mothers and babies at that point.”
Prior to the pilot program, patients interested in continued breastfeeding support after discharge would typically receive a resource list of community-based programs and a recommendation to follow up with their pediatrician or obstetrician. While lactation consultants continue to encourage patients to access care wherever is most convenient, Bryant said the team is delighted to provide a Brigham-based alternative.
“People come to the Brigham because they trust our hospital and the care that we give,” she said. “We’re extremely excited to offer this service as an option for our families.”
To learn more about the outpatient lactation clinic, call 617-525-4120.