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By Tom Vitaglione

breastfeeding-2428378_1920Though it was a long time in development, the NC Medicaid Program will be making life easier and better for the 50,000+ newborns and their mothers that it serves each year. In response to a recommendation by the Child Fatality Task Force, a legislative study commission, and after years of advocacy by NC Child, the Medicaid Program will soon add medical lactation support to its service benefits.

Breastfeeding is one of the most natural and enriching human experiences. It is referenced throughout history, with many mentions in the Bible. But problems can arise in both the initiation and continuation of breastfeeding, particularly for infants born with special needs. This is when medical lactation support, provided by a highly-qualified lactation consultant, can be a critical benefit – critical because studies have now confirmed that there are enormous health benefits for both mother and infant associated with breastfeeding.

A systematic review and meta-analysis on breastfeeding and infant/early childhood outcomes concludes that breastfeeding reduces the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome, gastrointestinal infection, upper and lower respiratory infection and hospitalization, childhood leukemia, asthma, otitis media, childhood obesity and diabetes mellitus. Breastfeeding also lowers maternal risk of breast and ovarian cancer, hypertension, and metabolic diseases.

Realizing that breastfeeding reduces infant deaths while also reducing health care costs, most insurance plans cover medical lactation support to assist women in continuing breastfeeding for the recommended duration of six months, and preferably a year. The notable exception has been the Medicaid Program. This is particularly regrettable, because Medicaid covers more than half of the births in our state annually.

This lack of coverage contributes to lower rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration for women on Medicaid. For example, in 2013 forty-eight percent of new mothers in our state continued breastfeeding for at least six months, but just twenty-three percent of new mothers on Medicaid did so.

But that disparity will soon be addressed with implementation of the medical lactation support benefit, and that will lead to fewer infant deaths and severe illnesses, while also saving Medicaid costs for medical services, such as very expensive infant intensive care.

This is indeed a win not only for mothers and infants, but for the state as a whole. And it’s one that will keep on giving for many years to come.

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