A new YSPH study seeks to prove that breast-feeding rates can be improved with mobile technology.
Can mobile technology be used to successfully encourage new mothers to breast feed their infants?
While it is well known that breastfeeding provides newborns with vital nutrients and a healthy start in life, many mothers forego the practice in lieu of ready-made, store-bought baby formula.
A Yale School of Public Health researcher and colleagues will field test a novel—and high-tech—approach to breast feeding over the next two years: Texting.
The study, known at LATCH (Lactation Advice thru Texting Can Help), seeks to prove that the instant, two-way messaging system can provide the timely encouragement that some new mothers need, as well as provide them with outside resources and, when needed, direct assistance. The LATCH intervention is believed to be the first breastfeeding peer counseling intervention to utilize text messaging.
Led by Rafael Pérez-Escamilla, professor and director of the Office of Public Health Practice at YSPH, and Nurit Harari, a former Yale Robert Wood Johnson clinical scholar, the Connecticut-based study will enroll some 250 new mothers from New Haven, Norwich and other areas who are currently enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children Supplemental Nutrition Program (WIC)
Pérez-Escamilla said that the breastfeeding rate for the millions of women enrolled in the WIC program nationwide is far lower than for other women in the United States. Studies have shown that breast milk provides a range of health benefits to children, including improved disease resistance and better intellectual development later in life. There are also a range of health benefits for mothers who breastfeed; they are able to lose weight gained during pregnancy easier and are at reduced risks for cardiovascular disease, and breast and ovarian cancer.
“There is a need to reach out and improve breastfeeding support among low-income mothers. We have learned than many moms prefer communicating via text messages. It has become a much more reliable way to consistently communicate with new moms,” said Harari.
The study is funded by the USDA Center for Collaborative Research on WIC Nutrition Education Innovations at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
The program will provide breastfeeding education and support through an automated texting schedule and seek to improve communication between mothers in the WIC program and breastfeeding peer counselors before, during and after pregnancy. The program also allows all text-based communication to be recorded. Under the leadership of Harari and with mentorship from Perez-Escamilla, LATCH was successfully piloted with a small sample of women in Connecticut last year. If this larger study that is now underway is successful, the low-cost LATCH approach could be expanded and used nationwide to promote breastfeeding.
“By promoting research partnerships between academic institutions and WIC agencies, we hope to identify cost-neutral, innovative approaches to improve WIC’s nutrition education impact,” said Karen Cullen, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and center director of the USDA Center for Collaborative Research on WIC Nutrition Education Innovations that funds this study.
About two-thirds of mothers enrolled in the WIC program initiate breastfeeding, but the median breastfeeding duration among WIC participants is only three months, Pérez-Escamilla said. He would like for LATCH to eventually contribute to the much needed improvements in breastfeeding outcomes among WIC participants nationwide.