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At the time my daughter was born 13 years ago, there was only one breastfeeding advocate who lived anywhere near our small town. I took a new parents class from the local hospital that covered breastfeeding, but I still ran into a lot of challenges the first couple of weeks. Luckily for me, the breastfeeding advocate, provided through the hospital, was devoted to her work and said to call her anytime. If she hadn’t been available, I probably wouldn’t have made it past the first few weeks of breastfeeding, and I seriously doubt I would have made it to the recommended goal of one year.
Although breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive health measures for infants and mothers, half of babies born in the U.S. are given formula within the first week, and by nine months, only 31% of babies are breastfeeding at all, according to the CDC.
"The provision of human milk is a life-changing thing," says Dine L. Spatz, PhD, RN, FAAN, nurse researcher at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and American Academy of Nursing’s representative to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee. "It can influence both the mortality of infants -- whether they live or die -- and also how healthy they are."
It seems recently that breastfeeding has gotten the world’s attention, and hospitals are no exception. Ninety hospitals have joined Best Fed Beginnings, a national effort to improve breastfeeding support in hospitals, funded by the CDC. Hospitals will work with national experts on 10 steps to successful breastfeeding established by the WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. Senior administrators are participating in a leadership track that highlights their role in making changes systemwide.
And that’s not the only hospital effort. For example, Greenwich (CT) Hospital offers a Tender Beginnings lactation program that includes a prenatal breastfeeding class; lactation consultants available daily during the hospital stay; a postpartum visit program; rental of hospital-grade electric pumps; a lactation support line; a Newborn Mothers Group; and a gift shop that sells breast pumps, bras, cover-ups, and clothing. Also, a private lactation room is available for hospital employees during work hours.
Reaching beyond its hospital walls, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles offers breastfeeding kits to mothers not hospitalized there for $25.
Need more inspiration? WHO has designated this week as World Breastfeeding Week. On Twitter, follow World Breastfeeding Week news at #WBW2012.