You’d think breastfeeding would be the easiest and most natural process ever—after all, parents have been feeding their infants for centuries, right? Maybe not. Recently, Mamava and Medela surveyed 15,000 parents and discovered that we are nowhere close to giving nursing parents the support they need. The results showed that parents turn to the Internet (58%) before asking for lactation consultants (53%). In addition, people turn to social media at the same rate as lactation consultants. Only 1 in 3 consulted their pediatricians.

Now, The Lactation Network is working to fill the gap of breastfeeding parents who need more support. Though it varies by location and other factors, lactation services can cost up to $300 per session after the initial precursory help you might receive as part of your hospital bill at the time of the baby’s birth. Not only is this completely infeasible for some parents, especially on unpaid maternity leave, but multiple of those sessions might be necessary to overcome nursing challenges.

TLN is the nation’s largest network of lactation consultants with the highest accreditations, according to McKenzie Closen, COO of The Lactation Network, based in Chicago. Their initiative works to provide accessible, expert-based, recognized care for breastfeeding parents. 

“By accessible, we mean affordable, easy-to-reach, and fully insurance-covered at no out-of-pocket cost to families for the duration of the breastfeeding journey. By expert, we mean personalized, in-person care provided by an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), the highest accredited lactation expert,” she says. “By recognized, we mean increased societal and legislative recognition of lactation care as a critical, nonnegotiable component of healthcare for families.” 

Their services go beyond breastfeeding—IBCLCs can also administer postnatal depression assessments and give families resources. “This fills a crucial gap in the typical 6-week period between delivery and the postpartum OB follow-up and is especially important as we grapple with a deadly postpartum mortality crisis, faced with figures that show 84% of postpartum deaths are preventable (NPR / CDC),” she adds.

Breastfeeding parents need more support like this. In one study, 76% of mothers believed they weren’t making enough milk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that though over 83% of infants start their lives receiving some breastmilk, six months later only just over half are still nursing. Lactation consultants can figure out what’s happening in the meantime to prevent nursing success.

The Affordable Care Act states that insurance plans must provide breastfeeding support counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding. 

“The words ‘duration’ and ‘coverage’ are vital in the ACA mandate for several reasons. First, most families are released from the hospital with hours-old infants and only brief episodes of lactation support at their bedside,” Closen explains. “It’s when parents get home and begin the adjustment to newborn life that they often require hands-on support. What happens when, weeks from delivery, mastitis symptoms appear? When a baby who latches just days prior no longer does? When milk supply runs low? That’s when covered care is most critical.”

The Lactation Network works by connecting breastfeeding parents with IBCLCs that take their insurance, through a consultation process to find a match. Parents can get support during pregnancy or postpartum, or get help with accessing breast pumps or accessories. 

“Lactation services have been largely out of pocket pay because there isn’t enough awareness that insurance plans should be covering this care. That’s exactly the reason why our campaign to raise awareness about the Lactation Coverage Gap is so important,” Closen says. “We want families to know that this is an option and that they don’t have to pay out-of-pocket to access this care.