By Deirdre Wilson
There are many great reasons why hospitals choose to work toward and achieve Baby-Friendly hospital status. There are also plenty of ways to encourage breastfeeding in line with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) guidelines without having that official Baby-Friendly Hospital designation. In fact, research has shown that implementing Baby Friendly practices such as early breastfeeding after birth, skin-to-skin care , and rooming-in, in hospitals that do not have this designation, resulted in higher rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration.
Whether or not you’re pursuing Baby-Friendly status, your hospital can effectively support and promote breastfeeding among staff, mothers, and their families. Here are just 5 of many ways to go about it:
1. Start educating women about breastfeeding early.
Setting expectations and goals early in the care process that a mother will achieve desired health objectives. This is true of breastfeeding, as well.
- Educating mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding is most successful when it starts during pregnancy. Indeed, Step 3 of WHO’s 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding—the key criteria for formal Baby-Friendly hospital status—requires that hospitals “inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.”
- Educating parents proactively, rather than waiting for them to request information, ensures they have the education they need when they need it.
- Educating parents electronically means the information can be shared in small, consistent pieces that don’t feel overwhelming. It’s also a time savings for staff and providers who would otherwise need to use medical appointments for breastfeeding education.
2. Incorporate breastfeeding education into your ongoing staff training.
Keeping your staff updated on supportive breastfeeding practices doesn’t have to be time-consuming or require organized training classes. Consider providing electronic breastfeeding education for staff to access anywhere and at their own convenience. Choose a solution that lets you track their progress, so you know when they’ve read the required information.
3. Stay in touch with women and their families about breastfeeding support opportunities, even after they’ve returned home.
In the U.S., 74% of babies have breastfed at least once, but only 23% are still breastfeeding by 1 year of age, according to the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card. Once new mothers are discharged, a strong connection with your hospital can encourage them to take advantage of available support, overcome challenges and stick with breastfeeding.
When following up with women who’ve recently had babies invite them to schedule a session with a lactation consultant or attend a breastfeeding support group at your hospital. These opportunities not only provide additional revenue sources, but also nurture relationships with women and their families, who will be more likely to return to your hospital in the future—whether for obstetric or other medical care.
4. Ask new moms for feedback about your hospital’s breastfeeding support practices.
Breastfeeding is an emotional topic for new mothers. With patient experience and satisfaction so important to a hospital’s bottom line these days, you want to know where you stand in patients’ minds.
Surveys are a great way to measure patient satisfaction with your breastfeeding education practice and policy. Send a quick survey by email or text message, asking new moms specifically about how your breastfeeding support has helped them and where you can improve.
5. Collect data on how many women who had their babies at your hospital continue breastfeeding.
Healthy People 2020, the population health measures created by the federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, set goals for how many infants are breastfed by the year 2020, including 34% of infants breastfeed at 1 year and 26% breastfed exclusively through 6 months.
If you want to work toward or even surpass this goal, you need to measure how your patients are doing after they leave the hospital. Providing patients education in a digital format, i.e. on their mobile device, combined with data collection technology can help you gain insight.
Baby-Friendly status remains the gold standard for many hospitals encouraging breastfeeding. But if your facility has limited resources, these 5 strategies can help your hospital successfully support and encourage breastfeeding.
For additional information on becoming a Baby-Friendly hospital, visit www.babyfriendlyusa.org
- Breastfeeding Support
- Perinatal Nursing
- Breastfeeding Rates Improve with Support and Education for Mothers
- Increasing Initiation and Exclusivity of Breastfeeding in the Hospitalized, Postpartum Dyad (JOGNN)
Deirdre Wilson, Senior Editor for UbiCare, is an award-winning writer and editor with 30 years’ experience researching and writing on a wide range of health, wellness and education topics for newspapers, magazines and a news wire service.