Should a mother have to get permission to feed her child? In many hospitals, that’s exactly what happens; after giving birth, a mother may have to ask for her infant to be brought to her to begin breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that “healthy infants should be placed and remain in direct skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately after delivery until the first feeding is accomplished.” However, if a new mom doesn’t ask, she may not be offered this important opportunity to begin feeding her child in the first hour as recommended.
To address this and other obstacles to the initiation of breastfeeding, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. This global program, endorsed by the AAP, is designed to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding.
Although the hospital is not and should not be the only place a mother receives support for breastfeeding, hospitals have a unique opportunity to encourage breastfeeding immediately before and after delivery.
Breastfeeding Rates for Marin – According to a recent report by the California WIC Association and the UC Davis Human Lactation Center, Marin County ranked 5th in the state for “in-hospital breastfeeding rates.” For data collected in 2009, exclusive breastfeeding (mother’s milk only) was reported by 79.5 percent of new mothers; any breastfeeding (exclusive or mother’s milk and formula) was reported by 98.3 percent.
While these are fairly good results, they could be better; very few mothers or babies have a medical reason not to breastfeed. And unfortunately, the numbers drop as mothers leave the hospital, become more mobile and return to work. Friends, family and employers should support new mothers to feed their infants as pediatricians recommend: exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and continued feeding of mother’s milk for at least a year as solid foods are introduced.
A few weeks ago, the Marin County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution declaring August as “Breastfeeding Awareness Month” in Marin County. This coincides with international efforts to recognize the benefits of breastfeeding and to promote efforts to support it throughout our community.
The Marin Breastfeeding Coalition applauds our county supervisors for supporting efforts to broaden outreach “beyond traditional breastfeeding supporters” and to “empower women in Marin to succeed at breastfeeding.” We also encourage local hospitals to seek official designation as “baby-friendly” hospitals.
Hospital Guidelines: The “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding for Hospitals,” as outlined by UNICEF/WHO, are:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
- Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within half an hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
- Practice “rooming-in,” that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together, 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called binkies or nookies) to breastfeeding infants.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
Research shows that babies who are fed formula have higher risks of obesity, diabetes, respiratory and ear infections, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). They tend to require more doctor visits, hospitalizations and prescriptions. And low rates of breastfeeding add an estimated $2.2 billion a year to medical costs in the United Sates.
As we like to say, mother’s milk is fresh, local and sustainable. It’s also the healthiest and most natural way to feed a baby.
Alex Porrata is the coordinator of the Marin Breastfeeding Coalition and a certified lactation educator.