Best for baby: Hospital helps foster breastfeeding success
August 27, 2018
For 37 years, Ann Erdmann has cared for moms and babies at Dignity Health Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.
While she has witnessed many changes over the years, one of the most significant is a change in attitude and knowledge about breastfeeding.
"Our community has always been pro-breastfeeding," Erdmann, now the Director of the Women & Infant Care Unit, reflects. "But in recent years, new moms have really gained a deeper understanding of the very significant benefits that breastfeeding provides to both baby and mother."
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other health organizations endorse breastfeeding as the best way to nourish babies. The AAP recommends babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months and that breastfeeding continues at least until the first birthday.
The World Health Organization goes a step further and recommends breastfeeding until the age of two.
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"The benefits connected to breastfeeding are amazing," Erdmann says. "Breastfed babies have a lower incidence of infections — both in the ears and in the gastrointestinal system — as well as a reduced risk for childhood obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, leukemia and SIDS."
For mothers, the benefits are no less significant.
"Moms who breastfeed have a decreased risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer, as well as a decreased risk for type 2 diabetes," says Erdmann. "Not to mention that moms who breastfeed lose their pregnancy weight more easily."
Because breast milk is uniquely produced by each mother, the combination of nutrients is biologically customized to that mother's child and his or her needs.
Breast milk contains the perfect mix of proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals, as well as disease-fighting components that can help to protect babies from illness and disease, both now and later in life.
Erdmann is proud of the breastfeeding success rates the SNMH Family Birth Center has achieved. For the fiscal year 2017-2018, 90.2 percent of the newborns born at the hospital were exclusively breastfed.
"We recognize that breastfeeding isn't always easy," Erdmann says. "There is a learning curve with breastfeeding and we are here to help."
With two lactation consultants and one breastfeeding educator on staff, the SNMH team is well-equipped to help new moms navigate what can be a challenging process.
"Sometimes a mom may face challenges breastfeeding due to her anatomy or that of her baby," Erdmann says. "It can be a frustrating process."
For several years, Erdmann's team has followed the 10 steps for breastfeeding success outlined by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a joint effort between the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund that recognizes hospitals that provide exceptional breastfeeding support to new moms.
Within the next year, Erdmann hopes to complete the final step toward earning the Baby-Friendly designation for SNMH — having all of the birth center nurses complete an additional 15 hours of breastfeeding education.
Among the initiative's 10 guidelines that are already in place at SNMH are: helping mothers initiate breastfeeding with an hour of birth; giving infants no food or drink other than breast milk (unless medically indicated); having mothers and infants room together 24 hours a day; and practicing skin-to-skin contact immediately following birth.
"Years ago, babies would go to the nursery," explains Erdmann. "Now, we know breastfeeding is more successful if babies are with mom. This starts with what we call 'the golden hour' – the first hour of life. We immediately put the baby on the mom's chest after delivery and that gives mom a chance to immediately begin learning the baby's hunger cues."
Erdmann says that in the past, that hour immediately following birth was a time for the baby to be passed around, from relative to relative.
Today, parents understand this time is crucial to establishing the foundation for successful breastfeeding.
"Even in that first hour, the baby will give hunger cues," Erdmann explains. "The cues can include putting the hand to the mouth and rooting or looking for the breast. We help new moms identify those cues before the baby even starts crying."
Erdmann says breastfeeding success starts with parents educating themselves before their baby is even born. "We want mothers to make an informed choice. Whatever they decide, we will support. Where we as health care providers struggle is when they don't have all the information."
To learn more about breastfeeding, visit aap.org and talk to your obstetrician and/or pediatrician.
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