CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Delivering triplets is worrisome enough, but when each newborn weighs in at less than four pounds, the concern for their health multiplies. Such was the case for Kimberly Morris, whose babies spent time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). At such low-birth weights, their nutrition was a primary concern and her medical team made it clear that breast feeding was a priority. This decision was further supported when her insurer enrolled her in a new breastfeeding program aimed at improving her children’s chance of survival.

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee recently expanded its efforts to increase breastfeeding rates and ensure the best quality of life for its smallest members by providing free breast pumps to mothers of at-risk babies treated in a NICU. The program works with doctors, hospitals and nurses to enable mothers utilizing the Medela Breast Pump Program to provide breast milk to infants while hospitalized and after they return home.

“Newborns that spend time in the NICU need the amazing health benefits and fortifying nutrients of breast milk both at the hospital and after returning home,” said Inga Himelright, M.D., chief medical officer at BlueCross. “Providing a free breast pump and working with the mothers, physicians and nurses to encourage breast feeding are two ways we can assist in the recovery of these little ones that are in their most vulnerable period.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant and should be supported and encouraged by pediatricians. The report states that the need for breast milk is even more important for premature babies.*

“Human milk is the best possible source of nutrition for almost all infants,” said Judy Aschner, M.D., director of the Mildred Stahlman Division of Neonatology at Vanderbilt. “It can mean the difference between life and death for a premature baby. It is one thing that the doctors and nurses cannot do. It is something we need each mother to do so her baby has the best possible chance of survival.”

Already in place for BlueCross members is a program with ProgenyHealth, a company specializing in neonatal care management services. Staff members work closely with families, attending physicians and nurses to promote healthy outcomes for BlueCross members with premature and medically complex newborns. Now this same group will review NICU cases and offer eligible mothers a free breast pump in addition to providing educational materials about the importance of breast milk. If the mother selects to breastfeed, the pump is shipped directly from partnering manufacturer, Medela.

Morris was one of the first recipients of the breast pump after the launch of the program. The triplets are now seven months old and quickly catching up to their target weight.

“They were so small, I just wanted to do the very best I could for them,” Morris said “I thought I would only breastfeed for three months. Having the pump makes it easier. I decided to extend it to six months and now I’m aiming to keep breastfeeding until they are at least 10 months old. The benefits are clear to me.”

*PEDIATRICS Vol. 115 No. 2 February 2005, pp. 496-506 (doi:10.1542/peds.2004-2491)

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.