Initiative promotes breastfeeding as healthiest option for infants, mothers
This month, Calvert Memorial will kick off a hospital-wide campaign to promote breastfeeding as the healthiest option for infants and mothers. It is part of an ongoing effort to pursue “baby-friendly” designation.
Although breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive health measures for infants and mothers, half of US-born babies are given formula within the first week, and by nine months, only 31 percent of babies are breastfeeding at all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The “Baby-Friendly” Hospital Initiative was established by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1991 to recognize facilities that foster a culture of support for breastfeeding mothers. Currently, there are 149 “baby-friendly” hospitals out of an estimated 3,250 birth facilities in the U.S.
Calvert Memorial already offers prenatal instruction in breastfeeding and has certified lactation consultants on staff that provide one-on-one instruction as well as outpatient lactation services for breastfeeding moms who need assistance after they go home. There is also a free breastfeeding support group that meets weekly at the hospital. The baby-friendly designation will enhance these services.
To earn that designation, hospitals must show they have successfully integrated a series of 10 steps to encourage breastfeeding. These include having a written breastfeeding policy, informing all pregnant women about the benefits of breastfeeding, helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth, and giving no pacifiers to breastfeeding infants. Additionally, they encourage breastfeeding on demand and “rooming in” – to allow mothers and babies to remain together, as well as referring mothers to breastfeeding support upon discharge.
“Evidenced-based research tells us that breast milk is best for babies,” said Betty Ellis, certified lactation consultant at CMH. “Good eating habits start at hour one for a lifetime of health and well-being. Our goal is to give every family the best start possible.”
Breastfeeding has multiple health benefits for both infants and mothers. For infants, it decreases the incidence and severity of many infectious diseases, reduces infant mortality, and optimally supports neurodevelopment. It also decreases the infants’ risk of becoming obese later in childhood. For mothers, breastfeeding decreases the risks of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
Ellis said the pathway to “baby-friendly” designation has four phases that typically take about two years to complete. CMH has just finished the discovery phase and is moving forward with the development phase, which involves creating a task force and a work plan. This is followed by the dissemination phase that involves collecting data and training staff before the on-site assessment that leads to designation.
According to Holly Dooley, director of Maternal Health Services at Calvert Memorial, the hospital is collaborating with physician offices to provide early education about options for feeding methods. “As healthcare professionals, we provide the best information so that parents can make an informed decision.”
She went on to add, “We recognize that it is the mother’s choice to breastfeed or supplement. It is never our intent to make the mothers feel guilty. If mom opts to bottle feed or supplement, the hospital will have formula available.”