Baby’s health scare leads new mom to start lactation testing benefit

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When Dr. Stephanie Canale, a family physician at UCLA Medical Center, discovered her three-month-old daughter stopped putting on weight and ceased having bowel movements, despite getting enough milk, she was confused and concerned about the cause.

Canale wasn’t finding the answers she sought and knew she needed to test her breast milk in order to figure out the issue, but there were no resources available. Later on, after her daughter developed spina bifida, Canale discovered she had iron-deficiency anemia and hereditarily low B-12 levels. She would continually question how different things could have been had she known this about herself sooner.

“I was killing myself pumping [milk for my daughter],” Canale said. “But despite drinking volumes of milk, she wasn’t gaining weight and I was like, what is in here? What am I giving her?”

As a doctor, Canale was used to being able to just order a test if she needed to know the answer to a diagnosis problem. But that wasn’t an option in the situation with her daughter, because there weren’t any resources for checking the contents of breastmilk. Canale also discovered she had some patients facing the same issue.

“I realized I wasn’t alone,” Canale said. “I wasn’t the only person who wanted to know what was in their breast milk.”

That experience would inspire Canale to found Lactation Lab, a company that provides breast milk testing kits.

Employers including Hulu and Beyond Yoga are already offering their employee moms this benefit. The kits give a complete analysis of a new mom’s breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids, and environmental toxins. The results are sent in a user-friendly report that reads like a food label and allows a mom to make informed changes depending on what her body, her milk, and ultimately her baby needs.

Benefits that specifically target working mothers can have a profound impact on employees and the organization. About 37% of breastfeeding moms will leave the workforce due to lack of support, according to data from the National Business Group on Health. When women are able to breastfeed for one additional month, it can result in $4,000 in reduced healthcare claims, according to Health Policy and Planning research. Additionally, employers will realize $3 return on investment for every $1 spent on lactation support, according to a report from the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Canale connected with Employee Benefit News to discuss Lactation Lab and the importance of employee benefits for new moms.

Why is breast milk testing an important benefit for working moms?
Women who learn about what’s in their milk actually breastfeed longer. The longer a woman breastfeeds can translate into a number of healthcare savings. They get sick less, there’s less sick days at work and increased productivity.

I think there is more stress than ever for new moms and we found that we have one thing that can help a mom on this journey of many unknowns. So they test their milk and they can learn how to tweak their diet to make it the best possible. It’s been a tool that can provide moms with very actionable things when told, this is what’s best for your kids, but have no way of knowing what’s in there.

What reaction do you get when you pitch this benefit to employers?
This is one of those benefits that’s not going to be for everybody. But it shows employees that as a company we care about your wellness, we care about your nutrition, we care about your baby. We had a meeting last week with a potential new employer client and they were like yes, help us help them. I’m really surprised at how open and welcoming the companies that we’ve spoken to are. They are just like over the top yes, we need to support moms.

What is the cost of this benefit to employers?
Our data suggests that employers get a $3 return for every $1 they invest in lactation support. We’re able to show them that this will save money, but I’m not just trying to sell a benefit that will save money. It’s [about] the message they’re sending to their moms. What ends up happening is there’s higher employee retention. Employers are sending the message that we value you and want you to stay.

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