Using human milk for human babies just makes sense, but the health impact is mind numbing. According to the Surgeon General, $13 billion would be saved annually in the U.S. if 90% of women followed guidelines to exclusively breastfeed for six months.
We have a long way to go to get there.
How do we get from the current 14.1% exclusive breastfeeding rate at 6 months to anywhere close to 90 percent? The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a set of maternity care practices that improves breastfeeding outcomes. It is recognized by the Joint Commission, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Surgeon General and others as the means to improve maternity care.
Baby-Friendly is not just for hospitals. Increasing breastfeeding rates is a community-wide issue and requires involvement from everyone. Here are 5 ways physicians, midwives and their staff can help:
- Don’t be neutral. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls breastfeeding the “normative standard” for infant feeding, stating, “Thus, infant feeding should not be considered a lifestyle choice but rather as a basic health issue.”
- Stay current. Your own breastfeeding experience or what you learned in medical school, nursing school or from a book just a few years ago is probably outdated. The BFHI requires all physicians and midwives who have privileges at a Baby-Friendly hospital receive 3 hours of continuing medical education (CME) in breastfeeding.
- Provide breastfeeding education to all patients. Our obligation as health care providers is to help patients make healthy choices. Ideally this education will take place in the 1st trimester and will include:
- Importance of breastfeeding
- Importance of exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months
- Basic breastfeeding management
- Importance of skin-to-skin contact
- Risks of supplements while breastfeeding in the first 6 months
- Remove formula promotional items from your office (pens, signs, badge holders, flyers, etc.). Women are inundated with formula advertising. There is no place for it in a medical office where breastfeeding is regarded as the “normative standard” of infant feeding.
- Support those who choose to formula feed by teaching the importance of proper formula preparation, the benefits of holding their babies during feeding and the benefits of holding babies skin-to-skin, especially right after birth.