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Giving Babies and New Moms a Healthier Start

September 24, 2013

Research shows newborn babies who receive the highest level of care for infant feeding and mother-baby bonding are more likely to enjoy better health. That's the basis for the Baby-Friendly Initiative launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 1991. Today, just 166 American hospitals and birthing centers are designated as Baby-Friendly. Washington Hospital hopes to be added to this important list by the end of 2013.

"Committing ourselves to the Initiative's 10 Steps to Baby-Friendly Designation helps our Hospital start babies off with the best nutrition possible according to proven standards, while also benefiting the health of new mothers," said Carmen Williams, R.N., manager of Maternal Child Health at Washington Hospital and one of the leaders of the Hospital's Baby-Friendly Initiative. "Giving children a healthier start means we are also contributing to a healthier community overall, with fewer illnesses, like diabetes, and lower rates of obesity."

The Baby-Friendly Initiative focuses on the proven benefits of breastfeeding for both moms and babies. These include improved mother/child bonding, as well as better infant nutrition, providing antibodies, hormones and antioxidants, while also stimulating the immune system. Health benefits for breastfeeding mothers include decreased blood loss after the birth, lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and a greater overall sense of empowerment and satisfaction.

The Baby-Friendly Initiative extends even further than the individual patient or community. Scientific evidence shows, if every baby were exclusively breastfed from birth for six months, an estimated 1.5 million livesÑmothers and children would be saved world-wide, according to WHO and UNICEF.

The global program has been endorsed by numerous leading health care academies and associations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Nurses and the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as the U.S. Surgeon General.

Washington Hospital's Baby-Friendly Initiative is consistent with its designation as a Magnet hospital, the highest level of recognition a hospital can achieve for quality of nursing care. Both programs contribute to a strong focus on patient-centered care to improve health outcomes. These strategies also encourage greater teamwork, training and competence among professionals in the hospital.

The journey to designation

"A hospital's journey to Baby-Friendly designation is quite comprehensive and very detailed," explained Barbara Eusebio, RN, JD, CPHQ, Washington Hospital's chief of Quality and Resource Management, in a report to the Washington Township Health Care District Board of Directors in August. "It requires a powerful team at the Hospital who can come together, rewrite policies and procedures, undergo considerable training, extend the skills to all levels of staff, and establish auditing to insure that quality is maintained."

Led by lactation consultant Debbie Hunt, R.N., the team spearheading the Baby-Friendly Initiative at Washington Hospital includes nurses and other lactation consultants, as well as pediatric hospitalists and an obstetrician on the medical staff.

"We are fortunate to have five trained and experienced lactation consultants as part of the team at our Hospital," reported Eusebio.

The Hospital's trained lactation consultants offer education and support to breastfeeding mothers from the moment of birth and even after moms and babies have left the Hospital to go home.

Ten steps to success

The Baby-Friendly Initiative team at Washington Hospital leads the way in adopting the 10 steps to success. These include:
* Teaching all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding
* Helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within one-half hour of birth
* Showing mothers how to breastfeed and maintain lactation, even if they should be separated from their infants when they go back to work, or for other reasons
* Giving newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless there is a medical reason
* Practicing rooming in, which enables the mother and baby to remain together 24 hours a day while in the hospital
* Encouraging breastfeeding on demand
* Giving no artificial nipples or pacifiers to breastfeeding infants
* Helping to establish breastfeeding support groups, and referring mothers to the groups when they are discharged from the hospital

"These steps make it possible for more new mothers and babies to experience the greatest possible health benefits from breastfeeding," stated Eusebio. "In the past year alone, we've increased the breastfeeding rate at Washington Hospital by 10 percent. As of June 2013, 80 percent of all women delivering at our Hospital were breastfeeding their babies. This is amazing progress."

After instituting all the necessary steps, Washington Hospital is now waiting to be notified about a site visit by the Baby-Friendly Initiative's evaluating group. Although the objective is to receive certification as a Baby-Friendly Hospital, the more important goal is to deliver the highest quality health services and support for babies, mothers and the community.

Learn more about the Baby-Friendly Initiative.

To find out more about Washington Hospital's Maternal Child Health services, go to www.whhs.com/womens-health. To view Barbara Eusebio's report to the Health Care District's Board of Directors, go to www.whhs.com/about/board-of-directors/2013 and select the 8/14/13 'related video.' To learn more about the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, visit www.babyfriendlyusa.org.