More than a third of working women don’t return to work after having a baby. Women who do decide to return to work after maternity leave often stop breastfeeding, frequently because they suffer from a lack of support—one big reason that only half of breastfeeding mothers continue after three months.
Raleigh-based iMama is seeking to change those trends. On iMama’s digital health platform, new mothers can request lactation consulting on-demand while at work, thereby helping more women return to work and prolong the breastfeeding cycle.
Liliana Cantrell founded iMama as a B2B SaaS spin-off from Sweetie Pie Organics, a company she previously founded that produces lactation supplements for breastfeeding women and was strategically acquired in 2021. NC IDEA recently awarded iMama one of its $10K MICRO grants.
“The breastfeeding market is growing,” Cantrell said. “By working on Sweetie Pie Organics we have identified another problem that we can solve for breastfeeding women—a really serious problem, that they need this medical help,” .
The app has a “get help” button that instantly connects a woman to a lactation consultant virtually, or allows her to make an appointment as soon as the consultant is available.
Because iMama supports return-to-work for new mothers, companies that subscribe to iMama can save money by not having to hire and train a new employee. Additionally, companies that offer family-friendly healthcare benefits have a leg up when competing for talent in an already-strained employment marketplace.
More and more mothers are dropping the baby formula bottle and choosing to breastfeed instead as studies come out touting its health benefits. Breastfeeding not only reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and diabetes for the mother, but babies who breastfeed have fewer GI issues and stronger immune systems.
Despite the demand, the market is under-served as not enough services exist like iMama that promote the easy integration of breastfeeding into a mother’s everyday life, Cantrell said. According to the CDC, the number one reason women stop breastfeeding is because they don’t have access to a medical provider or lactation consultant.
With iMama, mothers no longer need to physically visit a lactation consultant. Mothers can schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant on the app, take the appointment via video or phone and follow up via in-app messaging.
“The feedback that we have heard about other telemedicine services from women is that they either felt rushed because there were so many other people in the waiting room, or they felt like the medical provider didn’t understand their problem,” Cantrell said. “On our app, the mother can connect again with the same lactation consultant so that there is a personal bond between the patient and the medical provider.”
Also, while many other breastfeeding apps track data on a women’s breastfeeding cycle, they don’t connect that data to a lactation consultant like iMama does, Cantrell said.
According to a 2020 Women in the Workplace Study, 1 in 4 women are now considering leaving their job or downshifting their careers. Already, the female labor force participation rate dropped to 57% over the past year—the lowest since 1988—with some observers worrying that it might not only fail to recover to pre-pandemic levels, but continue to decline and reach the steepest decrease since World War II.
In order to speed up the return of women to the workforce and prevent further under-representation of women in certain managerial and corporate roles, employers can invest more in software like iMama that supports maternal healthcare and prevents breastfeeding from being a two-steps-forward, three-steps-back process for working mothers.
“The company saves money by increasing working women retention rates,” Cantrell said, “because studies show that women who actually have lactation support and medical providers are more likely to return to work after their maternity leave.”