Mothers and mothers-to-be of North Central Florida can look forward to giving their children a healthier start in life thanks to a new breastfeeding initiative.
In early June, 27 hospitals and the Florida Department of Health partnered to participate in Healthiest Weight Florida’s Baby Steps to Baby Friendly Initiative.
The initiative’s focus is helping promote an increase in breastfeeding among women in Florida, according to the website.
Four of the 27 hospitals taking part in the current initiative include the Women’s Center at North Florida Regional Medical Center, Orange Park Medical Center, Shands Lake Shore Regional Medical Center and Putnam Community Medical Center.
The hospitals were each given a $10,000 grant to enhance their maternity care, promote breastfeeding and begin implementing parts of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding program.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their baby for the first 6 months. However, only 18.3 percent of women in Florida breastfeed, according to the most recent Breast Feeding Report Card conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The preparation and support that women get in the hospital really helps (mothers) to feel either more confident that their body is going to do the right thing or less confident about that,” said Sandra Sullivan, M.D., a clinical associate professor of pediatric research at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
Often, hospitals inadvertently undermine the success of women and their confidence about breastfeeding which can cause women to turn to formula early, she said.
Sullivan also said that by choosing to breastfeed, women decrease their children’s risk of infections, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers by lowering their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, obesity and heart disease.
For women deciding whether to breastfeed or not, Sullivan points out the importance of women being educated about the differences between breast milk and formula.
“People don’t know that breast milk is specific to that baby,” she said. “The mom’s body adjusts what’s in breast milk for what the baby needs. Formula doesn’t do that.”
Every Tuesday morning, women from Alachua County and surrounding areas come together for the UF Shands Breastfeeding Mother Support Group to share advice between lactation professionals and mothers.
UF Health Shands Hospital became the first academic health facility and seventh hospital in Florida to receive the title of “baby-friendly” in February as part of an earlier initiative, Best Fed Beginnings. It is the only designated baby-friendly hospital located in North Central Florida.
Hospitals are designated baby-friendly by Baby-Friendly USA, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that implements hospital policies to help mothers successfully initiate breastfeeding. A baby-friendly designation is given to hospitals that successfully implements the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.
The steps were created by a team of experts and include evidence-based practices shown to improve the start and continuation of breastfeeding, according to Baby-Friendly USA.
One of the steps is promoting the development of support groups and referring mothers to them during the hospital discharge process. The UF Shands Breastfeeding Mother Support Group is an example of one such group in action.
“We simply provide that peer-to-peer, that mom-to-mom support that normalizes breastfeeding,” said Casi Norman, a registered lactation nurse at UF Health Shands who helps facilitate the group.
The group was created in August 2014 before UF Health Shands received their baby-friendly designation.
Most mothers who attend the support group are employees of the hospital even though it is open to any mother who wants to join, regardless whether they had their child at UF Health Shands.
During group meetings, the mothers are allowed to spend most of the time speaking among themselves about any concerns or problems they may have while breastfeeding their child, Norman said. The experts only step in to give a last word.
“Oftentimes, they don’t even need us as lactation professionals,” Norman said. “We’re here to support, but they do a great job at supporting each other.”
Norman believes that for many women, the support group is more than just a place to seek help and advice regarding breastfeeding. It is a place the women look forward to being outside of home and work as well as a place to make friends, she said.
The mothers of the group often have mothers’ night out or family night out to get outside of the hospital setting.
“They’ve really kind of developed a friendship and a mentorship,” Norman said.
Expanding A Healthy Start
Mara Burger, press secretary for the Florida Department of Health, said the Baby Steps to Baby Friendly Initiative is a partnership of local health offices with the hospitals located in their counties.
Hospitals chosen for the grant were first based off expressed interest in the project and then by breastfeeding initiation rates, Burger said in an email.
The 20 counties with the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates based on an assessment of the 2013 vital statistics birth certificate data were targeted, she said. They also targeted counties with facilities reporting the largest number of women not initiating breastfeeding.
“The main goal of this project is to help Florida hospitals conduct an assessment of their current maternity care policies and practices related to breastfeeding, begin making moves to accomplish each of the steps, and then celebrating those accomplishments,” Burger said.
According to Sullivan, part of the reason why there’s been a push to expand breastfeeding efforts is the health preventive measures it creates and consumer demand for such efforts.
“This is what people want, and so this is what healthcare providers are going to provide,” she said.