Report: California hospitals should do more to promote breastfeeding

January 27, 2011

The latest study on hospital breastfeeding rates is out, and advocates say California still has a long way to go toward ensuring that every new mom who wants to breastfeed is given the support she needs to make that happen.

According to the WIC Association — a network of nutrition programs for mothers and infants — and the UC Davis Human Lactation Center, breastfeeding is a “crucial first step” in protecting the health of mothers and infants.

Hospitals that have followed baby-friendly practices, including offering formula supplements only as directed by a physician, have the highest rates of breastfeeding. Those hospitals that do not have these policies, including many serving the state’s poorest families, tend to have the lowest rates.

“Nearly 90 percent of California mothers have made the decision to exclusively breastfeed, yet only about half are breastfeeding exclusively upon hospital discharge,” said a statement accompanying the report. “Breastfeeding success is dependent on the support of hospital staff support during those first critical 24 to 72 hours. If exclusive breastfeeding is undermined in the hospital, then it is next to impossible for mothers to sustain exclusive breastfeeding when they go home.”

In data from 2009, three California hospitals had more than 90 percent of new mothers using breast milk exclusively when they were discharged. Those hospitals were El Camino Hospital in Santa Clara County (97.4 percent), Kaiser Walnut Creek in Contra Costa County (92.1 percent), and Kaiser Hayward in Alameda County (90.8 percent).

Twenty two hospitals had more than 75 percent of their mothers using supplemental formulas at the time of discharge.

At Pacific Alliance Medical Center in Los Angeles County, 99 percent of mothers used formula. At Monterey Park hospital, 96 percent used it. And at Delano Regional Medical Center in Kern County, 96 percent of mothers used a formula supplement.

Even women who plan to give both breast milk and formula after leaving the hospital should not give formula until their milk supply is established,” said the report. “Supplementing with formula so soon after birth will compromise successful breastfeeding.”

According to the World Health Organization, here are the ten steps hospitals can follow to promote successful breastfeeding:

Maintain 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 one hour of birth.
Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
Give infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
Practice “rooming in” – allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
Encourage unrestricted breastfeeding.
Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge
from the hospital or clinic.

Click here to download the latest report on California hosptials.

–Daniel Weintraub

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