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Empowering New Parents with Tele-Lactation Support - SE2EP10 Andrea Ippolito

Empowering New Parents with Tele-Lactation Support - SE2EP10 Andrea Ippolito

As the founder and CEO of Simplifed, Andrea has created the first independent platform for tele-lactation consulting and nutrition support, connecting new parents with essential resources during early parenthood.

‌In addition to leading Simplifed, Andrea teaches in the Engineering Management Program at Cornell University.

‌Her impressive background features a stint as the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Innovators Network. In 2012, Andrea co-founded the health IT company SmartScheduling, which was later acquired by athenahealth in 2016. She has also been the Co-Director of MIT Hacking Medicine.

‌Andrea isn't just an entrepreneur; she's also committed to giving back to the entrepreneurial community. Join us as we delve into Andrea's inspiring journey and discuss the impact Simplifed is having on the lives of new parents.


@‌simplifedbaby on Instagram

‌This Episode is brought to you by Skill Samurai – Coding & STEM Academy www.skillsamurai.com.au

Speaker 1 (00:08):

Welcome to the Parenting in the Digital Age podcast. Many parents are concerned that their child might be falling behind. Others are just looking for ways to help their children thrive, not just in the classroom, but socially and well into their future careers. Each episode we explore the challenges facing parents in the modern world, from behavior, education, and nutrition to device and gaming addiction. We interview a range of leaders in the area of childhood development to help you successfully navigate parenting in the digital age. Here is your host, Jamie Buttigieg.

Speaker 2 (00:44):

Good morning parents and welcome to the Parenting in the Digital Age podcast, where we explore the challenges and opportunities of raising kids in a world filled with technology. Today we're excited to have Andrea Polito with us as the founder and CEO of Simply Fed. Andrea has created the first independent platform for tele lactation consulting and nutrition support, connecting new parents with essential resources during early parenthood. In addition to leading Simply Fed, Andrea teaches in the engineering management program at Cornell University and her impressive background Beaches, a stint as the Director of the Department of Veteran Affairs Innovators Network, if I got that right, that's a mouthful. Uh, in 2012, Andrea, co-founder of the telehealth, uh, sorry, co-founder of the Health IT company, smart Scheduling, which was later acquired by Athena Health in 2016. She's also been the co-director of M I T Hacking Medicine. That's an impressive background. Andrea isn't just an entrepreneur, she's also very committed to giving back to the entrepreneurial community. So join us today as we delve into Andrea's inspiring story and discuss the impact the Simply Fed is having on the lives of new parents now. Andrea, welcome to the show. Before we jump in, please tell our listeners what you do and what you are passionate about.

Speaker 3 (02:03):

Well, thanks so much for having me. While what keeps me up at night, literally and figuratively, is baby feeding. And it's an area that I'm obsessed about and I'm obsessed about it because I have lived experience in it. And I have two daughters under the age of five, and I am 28 weeks pregnant, uh, with my third daughter. And so this is something that is deeply meaningful to me and I'm super passionate about baby feeding based on experiences I had with my first daughter that inspired me to start simply Fed. And as I kind of uncovered the world of baby feeding and frankly how hard it is, how much judgment there is with it, how fragment it is, how the fact that health plans are required to cover services surrounding it and most are not. Um, I also learned how baby feeding is so connected, not just baby health, but mom's health and woman's health. And that's an area that I am also particularly fired up about. So just truly honored to be having this conversation with you.

Speaker 2 (03:12):

That's great. And, and I can, uh, sense the passion. So tell us a little bit more about Simply Fed, uh, what, what the organization does and maybe a bit about its objectives.

Speaker 3 (03:22):

Yeah, so Simply Fed is a comprehensive baby feeding support platform. So what do I mean by that? Cause that just sounds like something like an entrepreneur would say, right? But what we do is we start working with families during pregnancy. We work with health system partners, likes midwives, uh, and they refer to us starting during pregnancy and we start working with families to understand their baby feeding goals or if they have no idea what to expect, we educate them on baby feeding options for them. And we do that via 100% virtual platform. So we meet with families starting during pregnancy and via our national network of providers, we do a lot of listening to understand their goals and then make a plan. If your goal is to bottle feed, if your goal is to be able to sleep through the night, um, and feed your baby, then let's make a plan.

Speaker 3 (04:11):

If your goal is to combo feed, let's make a plan. If your goal is to fully breastfeed, let's talk about what that looks like. If your goal is to fully pump for a variety of reasons, let's get you a pump covered by your health plan and also get you size for that pump. Cuz the vast majority of folks are using the wrong pump size, which causes crack nipples, then causes infections and can result in mastitis and all sorts of stuff you don't want. And then after baby's born, we continue to work with them via virtual care model. And here's the good news. It's fully covered by health plans at no cost of families, which is your right under federal law. And what we find is that families that work with simply Fed, um, they are a whole lot less stressed. 91% of of folks that work with us report being less stressed after working with our providers.

Speaker 3 (05:02):

And also we're super inclusive, whether you're breastfeeding, formula feeding, combo feeding, pumping donor milk, G2 feeding, however you feed your baby, we got your back. So much so that we're the only breastfeeding support, uh, company that we know of that also helps distribute formula, which is crazy important, especially in light of an ongoing formula shortage. And so we provide access to insurance covered services, whether you're on commercial insurance, Medicaid, or tricare. We partner with breast pump durable medical equipment companies, um, to get you access to insurance, covered breast pumps, which is also you, right under federal law. And we offer baby formula that's organic, uh, and affordable and it's on par or sometimes less expensive than what you find at your local store. So we are truly inclusive no matter how you feed your baby,

Speaker 2 (05:55):

That that is such an incredibly valuable service. Uh, just listening to that, uh, introduction there, Andrea, because there's, you know, for new parents and, and I I've got four kids, um, there's an abundance of information out there. It's confusing to wade through. There is so much noise, it is difficult to find reliable guidance and advice and, uh, you know, I wish something was available to us at that stage in, uh, in life. So, uh, thank you for your impact you're making there. No, um, telehealth, so we're talking telehealth, right? So telehealth has obviously seen, like I've started using telehealth since Covid, right before then I just used to go and see my gp, right? So Telehealth is seeing this, uh, rapid growth, particularly in recent years, probably off the back of Covid. I, I don't know, you may be able to share some insights, but how do you envisage the future of tele lactation consulting and nutrition support? And what role will simply fed play in that growth?

Speaker 3 (06:48):

So simply that is 100% virtual and we have a very strong stance that while telehealth will never replace elbow to elbow in person care, it is particularly important with this patient population. And let's talk about why, you know, as a 28 week pregnant woman right now, third kiddo, um, you are going to a ton of appointments in the clinic. And by the way, that is so important for so many reasons. Um, however, it's a lot. It's a lot, especially as you get closer to 40 weeks and beyond postpartum, that's even more so because you have a newborn baby and putting them in a car seat to go to another clinic appointment is a lot more. So you want access to care where and when you need it. Baby feeding is a, you know, for better or for worse, no days off activity. And whether you're fully breastfeeding, combo feeding, fully form feeding, no matter what that looks like, having access to urgent support, but also preventative support matters and ongoing support matters.

Speaker 3 (07:54):

And we like to think about breastfeeding and baby feeding support similar to mental healthcare and physical therapy. You don't just have one appointment and you're good. Having access to ongoing support matters because these change, right? What your baby needs in week one, what you need mentally and physically in week one will look a little bit different than say at three months or six months. And the good news is, again, all this is covered by health plans. Um, however, going to another clinic appointment is a lot. And we also know this is where, uh, inequity start to happen. A lot of the folks that we serve say, I can't afford to go to another appointment cause I can't afford to put more gas in my car. I live an hour and a half away from the local, uh, closest lactation consultant. I don't have time to drive an hour and a half and back with a newborn.

Speaker 3 (08:45):

And even if you live in a city, again, having to traverse and going to a clinic when you need support urgently because you have, uh, an issue that you're dealing with. And so what telehealth and virtual care allows you to do is truly improve access to care. The other thing that has been an unintended surprise about tele lactation is that, well, yes, elbow to elbow support is great when someone comes and, and works with you and places the baby where it needs to be, that's great. When you're in the clinic, however, it's 2:00 AM everyone's crying and decompensating that muscle memory is lost. Whereas if you do it yourself and the provider works with you virtually in your home setting or wherever's commuting you to say, okay, bring me to the place where you're gonna be feeding your baby, and let's look at what that looks like. And so, okay, that's where you're gonna be. All right. Put your hand up here and you'll hear my daughter joining the session. You can, you probably hear her crying.

Speaker 2 (09:49):

She's welcome. She's welcome.

Speaker 3 (09:50):

She's like, I wanna joah, I have input into this conversation, um, <laugh>. And so they'll say, let's go to that place. Show me where you're feeding and get that pillow up. Get those feet up, and let's talk about what this looks like. Okay, your plan is bottle feeding. All right? It's the middle of the night. What does this look like? And so that matters in your home context and setting matters. And so telehealth will never be able to fully replace all that can happen in person such as weighted feeds, et cetera. But we see ourselves as truly complimenting what's happening in person. And we know we're providing more urgent access and more ongoing access that's truly moving the needle. Things that love to share it self-reported, but we're further rigorously putting this out is our er utilization rate, uh, for patients postpartum is 2.1% compared to the national postpartum average of 7.6%. We might ask why is that? So one of our hypotheses is because we are able to provide more urgent accesses support it, we're preventing having to go to the R or having to prevent issues from even arising. And so this is also important, and if you can't tell, I'm just a a telehealth enthusiast, uh, but that's actual real brass tax dated a prove out why telehealth is important.

Speaker 2 (11:06):

Yeah, absolutely. A a access, uh, to those services. Um, and, um, you know, uh, particularly in underserved communities. Now I wanna go back a step, uh, Andrea, uh, just to clarify for a minute. So we go out to a global audience, um, but uh, with a skew towards an Australian audience, this is a available to just parents and families in the US right?

Speaker 3 (11:27):

No, actually this is available to families worldwide because all of our providers are internationally board certified lactation consultants, which means they can provide care across the world. And in fact, some of our providers, uh, they, well I, some of our live overseas, one of my favorite providers lives on a boat off the course, uh, uh, off the coast of, and she has this amazing life. And so this is what's great about telehealth too, is that you can live AC anywhere and be able to provide 24 7 around the clock coverage, which with baby feeding is actually pretty important. <laugh>.

Speaker 2 (12:10):

Yeah, that's great. Thank you for clarifying. That's, uh, that's even better. Let's dive a little bit deeper then. So one of the things in the, uh, pre-show research, I was on your website and I noticed you've got, um, uh, free baby feeding classes led by certified lactation professionals, both parental and postpartum periods. Uh, share with our listeners a bit more about these classes and how these are making a difference in the lives of parents.

Speaker 3 (12:33):

Yeah, so our classes are really trying to meet parents where they're at. So we do prenatal baby feeding classes. We do postpartum baby feeding classes. Third, we do pumping classes cuz we find there's a lack of evidence-based information out there on pumping. And let's be real, it's 2023 and folks have to transition back to work travel or even if you are working inside the home, I was an exclusive pumper with my second daughter and I worked at home. And so no matter what your situation is, pumping is here to stay and we need actual support pumps our medical devices, and we need actual support and services alongside 'em. So we have a pumping class. And then our most recent class, our fourth class is our partner slash dad class because we often hear that dad feel helpless surrounding baby feeding. They wanna help support their partner and, you know, don't know where to start. Don't wanna overstep and, and our posture is, all right, well you need to step up and also let's provide a, a roadmap of how you can help support. And so, uh, we're very excited about all our classes. They're free, um, and they're on demand so you can watch them as needed.

Speaker 2 (13:48):

That's wonderful. Uh, yeah, thank you for sharing that. So let's, let's, let's lighten it up a bit. So let's, uh, can you share maybe a success story or two from, you know, maybe a parent or a mom who's benefited from Simply Fed Services? How has it made, uh, a positive impact on their parenting journey?

Speaker 3 (14:04):

Yeah, I'll give a couple different examples. Um, and it shows you the range of simply Bed services. So we have, uh, a, a patient, uh, a family, uh, that it was really important to them to be able to bottle feeded. Both partners wanted to be part of the baby feeding experience. They also didn't want that to impact mom's milk supply. Okay, so let's talk during pregnancy, they came to us and they worked with our providers to design a plan that works for them. And that involved combo feeding and that involved both partners being involved, but it also involved working with mom to ensure that they felt good about their milk supply. And that shows you like how Simply Fed will work with you. What is your goal, alright, based on those, those goals, let's come up with a plan. Let's protect mom's physical and mental health in the process.

Speaker 3 (15:02):

And that was really important to them cuz they wanted both partners to be involved and to be able to sleep. So hooray on that and that's a success story. Um, and they got access to ongoing support, which mattered. Another success story is we've had parents whose goal was to fully breastfeed, okay, so let's work with you, let's design a plan and let's find a way to make that work. It's going to be hard sometimes and that's why we're here to support you. And then we've had other parents that, uh, really wanted to combo feed and they really, really wanted to eventually fully switch to formula feeding. And we worked with them to design a plan that worked for 'em and to weam safely and to help them select the formula. So truly, no matter how you feed your baby, we'll work with you so that you can make a plan, um, that matters for you.

Speaker 3 (15:59):

I'll share a story of things that stink as well because a lot of times folks are coming to us in distress. We worked with a parent over this past weekend, worked for a large employer in the United States, unfortunately had to go back to work after two weeks, which for our overseas listeners will think that's despicable and as do we. And essentially they weren't getting time off to pump. And so our providers worked with them to design a plan but also advocate for them and arm them with information to advocate for themselves and also that this is necessary for them medically, mentally and physically. And so that's, you know, a sad state of affairs and it's also gives you a taste of what role we play as advocates and helping to support families no matter what context, uh, they're in.

Speaker 2 (16:57):

That's, that's tremendous and uh, such, such a huge impact for those families, uh, both in the US and around the world. Uh, I'm gonna switch, uh, paths a little bit, uh, to entrepreneurship for a minute. Uh, in your work with the va, you've had a significant impact on improving the experience for veterans. Um, so how has this experience perhaps influenced your approach to helping new parents, uh, and particularly those in underserved communities?

Speaker 3 (17:22):

Yeah, so I loved working at the Department of Veterans Affairs in the us It has an incredible mission. Also the va, while some might not, uh, realize it or even believe it, the VA is the, uh, is a step a ahead of US healthcare. So what do I mean by that? So the, the VA is the closest thing to a nationalized health system that the US has and it's the largest healthcare system in the United States. And because those boundaries, uh, those state boundaries say were taken away also, cuz they have the same medical record system across the va and also cause of the charge and mission of the VA to serve veterans and their families and caregivers across state lines. The VA tends to be a pioneer in medical technologies, telehealth being one of them. And so when I was at the va, I got a lot of experience, um, learning and, and seeing firsthand the power of telehealth to improve access to care. And when I, at the tail end of my time at the va, I was pregnant with my first daughter, uh, moved to upstate New York, uh, moved to a pretty rural area and saw firsthand the need to help improve access to care. And telehealth is just an incredible modality to do that. And so I leveraged a ton of learnings from the VA to help found and scale Simply Fed.

Speaker 2 (18:59):

Yeah, that's fantastic. So as a mother, an entrepreneur, a contributor, I mean you, you're here on a podcast giving you time generously to help others around the world. How do you balance your personal life and professional life and what advice would you have for parents who are trying to achieve this? You know, perhaps, um, uh, uh, fable balance?

Speaker 3 (19:18):

Oh my gosh, totally favorable balance. I have no good advice, honestly. I, it's terrible. It's, it's hard, it's exhausting. And just to give a very real answer that I think a lot of parents will resonate with them. You know, I, here I am CEO of a startup. It's more small, mighty organization. And 11:00 AM I get a call from daycare saying that my daughter has a 100.6 fever, which quote unquote fever. And I have to go pick her up and look, I have important meetings. We had a port meetings with health systems teach her and I had a long list of work to do. You know, both my kids were sick. I'm 28 weeks pregnant, I'm tired, I don't, I don't get that much sleep and now I have to go pick up my kid and they're joining me in the meetings. And you heard my daughter kinda asking my name in the background of this.

Speaker 3 (20:13):

I like to say I'm failing forward. And I share like the honest truth of that because I think if, you know, if I gave advice, quote unquote, it would be fake and superficial cuz I have no idea what I'm doing every day. The struggle. And parents deserve the best and we need across the world more societal infrastructure supporting parents because by the time you get, especially women and, and moms using, by the time you get enough experience, expertise, confidence to start your own company or, you know, become a leader, what have you own company is when you start having kids. And, and to me, this is one of the main reasons why we see a lack of women in leadership because societies across the world have not evolved to really support all parents, but especially women in the workforce. And that needs to change cause we're half the population and we're earning more degrees, uh, than men at this point. And so if we wanna tackle some of the world's gnarliest complex challenges, we have to provide more societal infrastructure to help support parents in the workplace.

Speaker 2 (21:21):

Uhhuh. Yeah, that's, uh, that's quite profound. Thank you. So in terms of, uh, simply fed in the coming years, you are the ceo, the visionary behind this, uh, uh, powerful, impactful brand that's contributing to so many families around the world. So how do you, how do you plan to expand services to perhaps more parents across the globe? Or if that's the wrong question, what next for Simply Fade?

Speaker 3 (21:43):

So simply Fed's goal is to really continue to democratize access to these services, um, so that families can get access to the support they need and deserve starting during pregnancy, you know, families shouldn't be struggling if, for instance, pumping. Yeah, I shared earlier that most parents are using the wrong pump size. And that's not just uncomfortable, it hurts, it's painful, it can lead to bad health effects, right? K crack napoles lead to infections and c clogged milk ducts and mastitis. It is not great. And so we need a society to evolve and improve access to services alongside medical devices like Press Pump. That's just one example. So where do I see Simply Fed going continue to democratize our services advocate for families across the world, that they need to have access to these services, whether that's in person or virtual. And we also are super excited to partner with healthcare systems and other community-based orgs along the way. I'm a big, um, believer in incremental systems change. Uh, and this is just something I've learned from mentors and role models and, and you know, things don't happen overnight. And the best way to achieve systems change is by integrating with existing systems and processes and not trying to quote unquote disrupt the world. That's my least favorite word, because you really have to meet families where they're at, meet the system where they're at, and so that you can design, co-design together with the system people es and that's how you actually do create change in transformation.

Speaker 2 (23:22):

Yeah, yeah. Well said. Um, so a question we like to ask all of our guests as we start to round off the podcast. If you could go back in the proverbial time machine and, uh, meet your 10 year old self, what's one piece of advice that, uh, you'd give young Andrea?

Speaker 3 (23:39):

The one piece of advice I would give young Andrea is don't be so hard on yourself. I still have a lot of confidence in myself sometimes, and it took me too darn long to get that confidence, even though I think I need more. And I was just such a stressed little kid about so much, and the one piece of advice I would give myself is give myself more credit and you are your hardest critic, and don't let that stress get in the way of making an impact in the world. Um, and also probably would say to enjoy being a kid. Um, my little girls, they see me on the couch with my laptop and they start impersonating me, and that just actually like brings a tear to my eye because I just want them to have the best time being a kid. And I hate them seeing, like, I hate that, like their fun is defined, like impersonating mom on a laptop. I just want them to be able to use their imagination and play all day right now. <laugh>.

Speaker 2 (24:47):

Yeah. Yeah. Look, uh, it's, uh, some wise words there, Andrea. And look, today, appreciate your generosity, uh, your contribution to the Greatest Society. What you guys are doing is nothing short of remarkable. And thanks for your honesty. Uh, it's, it's wonderful to have, it's refreshing to have honest guests on our podcast. Um, so where can our listeners, our parents, uh, find you online or how can they connect with you or simply Fed, what's the easiest way to do that?

Speaker 3 (25:12):

Yeah. Come check us out@simplyfed.com, S I m P L I f e d.com and also check us out at, at Simply Fed Baby on Instagram. We'd love to be able to get to know all of you and, uh, and support you in wherever you're at in your journey.

Speaker 2 (25:31):

Andrea, thank you so much for your time and generosity. It's been a great podcast. Lots of positive takeaways that I know many parents will get so much benefit from in the months to come, uh, as this podcast is, uh, put out into the, uh, um, uh, the world. Uh, thanks again. I hope we cross paths again soon. And bye for now.

Speaker 3 (25:48):

Bye for now. Thanks so much for having me.

Speaker 2 (25:51):

You're welcome. Cheers.

Speaker 1 (25:55):

If you enjoyed the show, please connect with Jamie on LinkedIn or Instagram. You'll find links in the podcast description. Parenting in the Digital Age is sponsored by Skill Samurai Coding and STEM Academy for Kids Skills, samurai offers afterschool coding classes and holiday programs to help kids thrive academically and socially while preparing them for the careers of the future. Visit Skills samurai.com.au.