It’s got a long way to go before it’s actually helpful.
“I’m at the end of my rope,” yelped the frantic woman wearing a stained tank top that, upon closer inspection, was inside out.
“My husband made me come here,” moaned another. “He thinks I’m going to lose it. He thinks I’m gonna lose it any day. I might lose it any day.”
Seven bedraggled women went clockwise around the circle and introduced themselves and their problems. It was a little like a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, except for the recalcitrant newborns dictating the conversation and occasionally interjecting a cry, grunt or fart. This was lactation group therapy.
“Breastfeeding is a confidence game,” an intensely earnest lactation consultant with a green French pedicure announced to the room of less-than-confident new mothers.
This group lactation class at a local baby goods store in San Francisco cost me $30, and I left the store with a $58 breastfeeding pillow, $28 in lactation cookies and $20 of nipple shields. Since giving birth a month ago, I’ve spent a small fortune within the lactation industrial complex on various accessories to make breastfeeding more palatable. And I learned a few things – mainly that I wasn’t alone in my confusion.
From the moment you announce you’re pregnant everyone—from your OB-GYN to your dry cleaner–tells you that if you aren’t breastfeeding, you’re failing this new helpless alien right out of the gate. If you don’t breastfeed, forget about a good college, a well-adjusted social life or the ability to get over the common cold.
What no one tells you is that breastfeeding is hard. Really hard. I was one of the lucky ones. My baby latched onto my nipple right away and started gulping like a drunk on St. Paddy’s Day. The problem was that he latched on with so much gusto and enthusiasm that my nipples felt like they’d been rubbed with sandpaper, body slammed by a professional wrestler and stabbed by sharp little needles. I went to lactation therapy hoping to get some answers about how to make the experience a little less painful. I got plenty, but by the next day, I had entirely new questions.
So when I heard about Momseze, an app created to give new moms lactation support remotely, my interest was more than piqued. Momseze promises to help parents “connect immediately on-demand via video chat, text or voice with lactation consultants and other new baby support specialists 24/7, 365 days a year,” according to co-founder Shana Lawlor. Users are supposed to be able to launch the app and press “Connect Now” to immediately speak with one of the 30 lactation consultants on staff.
Momseze isn’t cheap. A 25-minute consultation costs $39.99, a 50-minute one $59.99 and a 3-month subscription, which provides new parents with unlimited support, 24/7, costs $249. Yet compared with private lactation consultants who can cost up to $200 an hour in some cities, it could be considered a deal. And for this stressed-out mom, if Momseze could make lactation consulting, and subsequently breast feeding, easier for me and my baby, it could be a game changer.
Sadly, I found that the technology of Momseze isn’t seamless – and, if anyone needs tech to be seamless, it’s a new mom who has maybe 25 minutes (at best) of hands-free time, is often at the end of her rope and needs help ASAP.
The first problem I encountered was that the app scheduled my appointment for the wrong day. All of a sudden I had a lactation consultant texting me in the midst of my baby’s fussiest time wanting to chat immediately. I managed to let them know I couldn’t speak until the next day and we rescheduled.
At the originally scheduled time I signed onto the Momseze app on my phone, made sure I was on my wireless network (to get the best possible video connection) and prepared myself, my baby, my breast pump and its myriad tiny parts and my expensive breast feeding pillow for a video chat. The app informed me that I was about to speak with Karen, a lactation specialist in Florida. I was told Karen was online, but I couldn’t see her. Neither the video or audio was working. When I tried to reconnect, the app tried to charge me for a new session.
After 25 minutes of texting back and forth with Karen about troubleshooting the problem, my baby was about to wake up and lose his mind and I had to abort the mission.
Another day I chose the option of texting with the consultant. I figured texting might be easier than a video consult. I typed hello with my one free hand. Then the app told me the lactation consultant signed off. She never returned.
I tried twice more to schedule an appointment on demand (the app promises to find consultants within five minutes). It timed out twice without finding anyone.
The third time was the charm, and I was finally able to connect with another lactation specialist.
The conversation on the texting app was slow (the consultant often took several minutes to respond). Texting required much more back-and-forth than would be necessary in person, the same way that a single phone call can often accomplish more than five emails.
When I told the Momseze consultant that I was pumping breast milk and feeding my baby from a bottle in addition to feeding him from the breast, she informed me that I should never do that. I was not pleased with her judgmental tone. I told her I was just trying to do what was best to keep my baby fed and myself sane. I also told her she could reserve her judgement.
I asked her to help me with three things—resolving the pain in my nipples, how to do a football hold and if I should worry whether my baby was eating too much. In the hour that we texted, she was only able to answer one of my questions (football hold) — and in a way that didn’t end up being tremendously helpful or useful.
I finally gave up. This was clearly not a person who could help me. I scheduled an in-person private lactation consultant with the hospital I gave birth in that ended up being covered through my insurance. She was able to answer all of my questions in about 15 minutes in person, with zero judgment.
Momseze in theory is a great thing. Momseze in practice isn’t quite there yet. But I hope it will: New moms need help, let’s hope the tech can eventually meet them how and when they need it.
Jo Piazza is the author of the new book How to Be Married.
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