An AI-powered solution for breastfeeding success

A RAPiDS Cycle 2 project works toward promoting lactation success and continuation in postpartum mothers. 

Mother with her baby.

Human breast milk not only improves health for mothers but also for babies — especially premature babies, who are the most vulnerable. Because of its benefits, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life and recently issued recommendations that outlined how breastfeeding babies up to 2 years of age impacts health.

Although data from Florida show that encouraging women to start lactation is being done well throughout the state, by the time babies are about 6 months old, only half of mothers can continue lactation, often due to environmental challenges.

A new project at UF Health Shands Hospital, Maximizing Initiatives for Lactation Knowledge, or MILK+, aims to address these challenges. The proposal strives to help clinicians identify women at high risk for lactation failure and provide targeted interventions to promote lactation success beginning at their baby’s birth, with the goal of increasing the number of postpartum women providing any human milk at discharge by 10% over a year.

Milk+ is one of 32 approved projects from Cycle 2 of Rapid AI Prototyping and Development for Patient Safety, or RAPiDS, which is housed under the College of Medicine’s Quality and Patient Safety initiative, or QPSi, AI/QI Incubator.

Image of Helen Hu, M.D.
Helen Hu, M.D.

MILK+ project champion Helen Hu, M.D., a clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics division of neonatology, was inspired to bring this project to fruition, along with a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, through her experiences with patients and with motherhood.

“Many factors impact somebody’s ability to breastfeed, and there are enough data out there about social determinants of health in particular,” Hu said. “Education, socioeconomic status, race, how close you are to a hospital, all these things can matter in determining whether someone’s going to be able to not only start breastfeeding but continue even after they leave the hospital. It’s a challenge to bring all that information together.”

Jennifer Powell, D.N.P., APRN, N.N.P.-B.C., a nurse practitioner in the neonatal intensive care unit working on Hu’s team for this project, noted that a large part of earning her doctorate in nursing practice, or D.N.P., focused on quality improvement.

“The idea behind the D.N.P. was to have providers who can take all the good data coming from the Ph.D.s and actually implement it into practice,” Powell said. “This project will be crucial in identifying a targeted population to boost our efforts in increasing the number of moms who successfully provide expressed breast milk to their preterm infants.”

As the father of a 2-year-old son, Wenbin Guo, Ph.D., an industrial engineer working on this project within the AI/QI Incubator, has a personal connection to the importance of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies. 

“Through our Milk+ project, I have witnessed firsthand how our contributions can positively influence the breastfeeding journey for mothers and babies alike,” Guo said. “It has been a rewarding experience to be part of this Milk+ project and I look forward to seeing its continued impact.” 

Tanja Magoc, Ph.D., an AI/QI Incubator AI engineer who worked on this project alongside Guo, expressed that it is truly inspiring to work with such a dedicated and enthusiastic team of clinicians who bring diverse perspectives, expertise and unwavering commitment to this cause. 

“Together, we are able to leverage our collective knowledge and skills to address complex challenges and develop innovative approaches that will positively impact the lives of mothers and babies,” Magoc said. “I feel privileged to be part of this collaborative effort, and I eagerly await observing the long-lasting positive impact of this project in advancing the well-being of mothers and babies.” 

Using advanced AI methods such as geospatial mapping with health history data, this project creates a clinical decision support tool that helps health care providers identify patients who are most at risk of facing challenges with starting or sustaining lactation during their hospital stay.  

Further testing of the tool would lead to the future development and implementation of a “Lactation Support Bundle,” created with consultations from a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, lactation consultants, social workers or case managers. This provides mothers at high risk of lactation failure with myriad resources and education, from obtaining and using a breast pump to receiving help with transporting their milk to and from the hospital. 

“If we’re able to say this person is high risk and it’s because of X, Y and Z, then we can very quickly say they will need this and hopefully, we’ll be able to help them address the issues that are going on in a more tailored way,” Hu said.

About the author:

Damarys Santacoloma, M.S.


Damarys Santacoloma, M.S., Communications Manager, Quality and Patient Safety Initiative.

Damarys Santacoloma, M.S., graduated from Florida International University with a B.A. in philosophy and an M.S. in marketing. Before joining the University of Florida’s College of Medicine as the communications manager for the Quality and Patient Safety Initiative, or QPSi, she worked in a variety of fields, including the nonprofit sector, the startup space and in higher education, previously serving as the communications manager for UF Online. Her skills range from email marketing and customer relationship management, or CRM, to digital and print content creation and website maintenance. Now in her current role, Damarys assists in creating a communications strategy for the QPSi with an omnichannel approach in order to increase the initiative’s reputation and brand awareness.