Is Your Hospital Baby-Friendly?


Yesterday’s StayAlert Notice reviewed a new nationwide initiative by the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ),supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), designed to help hospitals improve maternity care and increase the number of Baby-Friendly hospitals in the United States. The Best Fed Beginnings Initiative addresses the need to improve hospital practices to support breastfeeding by using quality improvement methods to help hospitals achieve Baby-Friendly designation. NICHQ is currently recruiting 90 hospital teams to participate in a Best Fed Beginnings Learning Collaborative which will be conducted between June 2012 and March 2014.

What is clear from this initiative and the research supporting it is that hospitals are integral to the success of early and sustained breastfeeding. Yet, the majority of hospitals in this country continue to use practices that hinder mothers and babies as they begin to breastfeed. Why is it that most US hospitals do not fully support breastfeeding?

Reasons the CDC cites for support of early breastfeeding include:

  • A baby’s risk of becoming an overweight child goes down with each month of breastfeeding.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be fed nothing but breast milk for about the first 6 months and continue breastfeeding for at least 1 year.
  • Low rates of breastfeeding add $2.2 billion a year to medical costs.
  • Mothers who breastfeed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers.

The challenge for hospitals is that true support of early breastfeeding requires a financial commitment with little immediate return on investment. Reducing childhood obesity is a wonderful policy goal, but why should hospitals invest in lactation consultants, staff education and decentralized well-baby nurseries for a long term policy goal? Financially strapped hospitals are continually forced to make decisions about where to invest their dollars and breastfeeding support often ends up at the bottom of the list.

However we are seeing a shift in public policy that will make it increasingly difficult for hospitals to overlook baby-friendly breastfeeding support practices. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, the Best Fed Beginnings Initiative and state initiatives in Maryland, Rhode Island and Massachusetts all indicate that hospitals are increasingly expected to implement Baby-Friendly Hospital practices.

How can your hospital begin to better support breastfeeding? Here are some best practices and resources:

  • Initiate a multidisciplinary work group to evaluate implementing the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding. Be sure to include senior administrators as their involvement is critical in supporting system-level changes.
  • Partner with Baby-Friendly hospitals to learn how to improve maternity care; consider participating in the Best Fed Beginnings initiative.
  • Use CDC’s Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) survey data to prioritize changes to improve your hospital’s maternity care practices.
  • Stop distributing formula samples and give-aways to breastfeeding mothers; review case studies from hospitals that have addressed the formula sample issue.
  • Work with community organizations, doctors, and nurses to create networks that provide at-home or clinic-based breastfeeding support for every newborn.

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