The best out-of-pocket, out-of-network healthcare dollars I ever spent

It was Day 5 of my new parent adventure. If you’ve been there, you may remember the feeling: hollow-eyed, slightly manic, happiness mixed with flashes of anxiety. The plan was already off track thanks to a C-section. The next big deal was breastfeeding, and that wasn’t going right either.

It took a lot of practice and a lot of help, but my son and I finally got the hang of it. In my contribution to XX in Health Week, I will explain why this extra effort and expense had a great, long-term ROI, and why employers and parents (yes, dads can help) should make the same investment.

Finding the right coach

There was a “lactation consultant” at the hospital, but she was no help. We had to do our “training” on her schedule and naturally she dropped by when my son was asleep. “Pinch his arm, that will wake him up, jiggle him,” she suggested. Really?


My last hope was The Baby Station, freelance lactation consultants. We packed up our colicky kid and drove across town. We didn’t call first to see if they were a preferred provider.

This healthcare experience was one of the best I’ve ever had. It reminded me of this comparison of dental work vs. cosmetic enhancement. There was a big, soft arm chair. There was privacy. I could get help on my schedule. I was not rushed. Everything was explained in clear, friendly terms. The consultant gave me a recipe for an easy protein shake and explained how to wrap my son like a burrito to help him sleep. She even threw in a few helpful anecdotes about the benefits of persevering.

We ended the experience with a walk through a breasfeeding gift shop, complete with Boppys, bras and books about “the womanly art.”  This was no tree-hugger hangout; there was a signed picture of 43 on the wall behind the cash register. The consultant’s hourly rate was $90, and after throwing in a couple bras, we spent about $230 (I came back later for the $250 breast pump). That was minuscule compared to the bill for our hospital stay, but I was much happier to spend that money and the return at least felt much greater. I didn’t even try to figure out if I could have submitted the bill to my insurance.

It did take a village

So, it worked. I nursed my oldest son for 20 months. In addition to my determination, the consultant’s advice and a nipple shield, I have to give credit to two other key factors: my employer and my husband.*

My boss’s wife was a lactation consultant — by a bizarre coincidence — so that part was easy. I took over an extra office with a door, papered over the window and lugged my breast pump in there every morning. My husband lugged the baby to my office each afternoon and we all had lunch in that small room. He was a brewer at the time for a local microbrewery, so his hours were flexible enough to allow him to work evenings.

Get over the ick factor

Breastfeeding is the perfect trifecta of weirdness: bare flesh, bodily fluids and a baby. It takes a lot of poise and a good relationship with your boss to bring it up at work, and that’s assuming you’re in an office setting. Some women are uncomfortable talking about it at all, never mind with co-workers, or even trying it in the first place. As an added bonus, it’s one of the worst topics in the mommy wars because you can get yelled at from both sides regardless of what you say. But, it’s worth the extra effort.

Breastfeeding is also a perfect example of how corporations need to look at healthcare from a perspective of enlightened self-interest. Want your employees to take fewer sick days to deal with sick kids? Establish a breastfeeding room before being asked (the bathroom is not acceptable; privacy and an outlet are required). Encourage women to take breaks to pump or visit their babies at daycare to nurse. This short-term investment can result in lower healthcare bills for both parties. Read “The business case for breastfeeding,” if you want a cost/benefit analysis.  The next time it comes up in your office, tamp down the squeamish feeling and think of the bottom line.

The ROI for me? My son is turning 8 years old in a few days and has never been on antibiotics: no ear infections, allergies or tonsil problems.

Maybe Marissa Mayer will usher in a new phase of breastfeeding as a status symbol for corporate coolness and long-term wellness for moms and kids both.

*Yes, I realize that I had a nearly ideal situation to allow for extended breastfeeding and, no, this column is not a personal criticism of  any other woman who made a different choice about how to feed her baby.