After decades of work by breastfeeding advocates, it’s now generally accepted that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition and immunologic protection for infants, and that both babies and mothers receive excellent health benefits from it. In fact, babies who are breastfed are less likely to become overweight and obese, have fewer ear infections, stomach viruses, respiratory infections, and other pediatric conditions and diseases.
Despite the gradual change in public opinion, however, many new mothers still do not choose breastfeeding as their babies’ main source of nutrition. Now, New Jersey has taken a lead in prioritizing breastfeeding as a public health topic, particularly for the role of breastfeeding in the prevention of obesity–an epidemic problem for New Jersey residents. Multiple strategies are being developed to target communities, schools, workplaces, and healthcare settings.
Some of us who work in healthcare have also been working hard to increase breastfeeding rates. Our group, The Baby-Friendly Hospital Coalition, is collaborating with the American Academy of Pediatrics and maternal/child health experts at 10 New Jersey hospitals to implement new policies and practices at those facilities that make the education, support and encouragement of mothers and babies in breastfeeding a priority. Recently, we received a major boost in our efforts to promote breastfeeding by being awarded a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention entitled, Communities Putting Prevention to Work.
Cooper University Hospital is taking the lead in this initiative. Last year, we became one of the first facilities to stop the practice of giving out formula–company-sponsored sample packs, a practice shown to undermine breastfeeding. Now, through the collaborative, more than a dozen N.J. hospitals have stopped distributing sample formula packs.
Additional changes that Cooper and other facilities are working on include: having comprehensive infant feeding policies; training all of their staff, including physicians, on the benefits and management of breastfeeding; providing prenatal and post-partum information about breastfeeding, delivery by skin-to-skin, rooming-in, avoidance of unnecessary supplementation, and showing mothers how to maintain lactation should they be separated from their newborns. These policies and practices are described in the World Health Organization’s “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” and serve as the basis for the Baby-Friendly hospital initiative.
While N.J. currently has no Baby-Friendly certified hospitals, we expect that with this collaborative not only will more hospitals receive certification, more mothers in N.J. will breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, continue breastfeeding for at least one year, and fewer children in N.J. will be victims of the obesity epidemic.
To learn more visit the Cooper University Children’s Regional Hospital.