By BETSY DANCISAK, MPH | Breastfeeding Program Coordinator, LDH Bureau of Family Health
More and more Louisiana babies are born in hospitals that have policies and practices in place to support breastfeeding. For the past 12 years, the Louisiana Department of Health’s The Gift program has helped hospitals prepare families for breastfeeding and support them once their babies are born.
The Gift, a program of the Louisiana Department of Health’s Bureau of Family Health, helps hospitals along the pathway to international designation as a Baby-Friendly hospital. Baby-Friendly designation is provided through the World Health Organization and UNICEF’s (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
When hospitals put the Baby-Friendly Initiative’s Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding practices in place, they are setting families up for success in breastfeeding and infant care. The hospital stay is a critical time for moms and babies to get the hang of breastfeeding while they have on-site coaches (a.k.a. lactation consultants) and other nursing staff to support them at the push of a call-button.
Baby-Friendly designation recognizes hospitals that give mothers the information, confidence and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or safely feed with formula. Helping women achieve their breastfeeding goals is not only beneficial to individual mothers and babies, but it may help reduce health disparities on a statewide level. Breastfeeding can improve many short- and long-term health outcomes for mothers and children, regardless of social or economic status, and allows all infants access to the same quality of nutrition and immune protection.
Aside from the benefits of breast milk, the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding help new moms and families connect with and understand their babies, regardless of whether the baby breastfeeds or receives formula. Responsive caregivers are fundamental to trusted and secure relationships, which are key to establishing a strong foundation for lifelong well-being.
In 2013, none of Louisiana’s 52 birthing facilities were designated as Baby-Friendly. Now, 49% of all Louisiana births take place across 16 Baby-Friendly hospitals. Thirty-seven of Louisiana’s eligible birthing centers are also Gift designated (including the 16 Baby-Friendly hospitals). Gift designation means that a hospital has implemented or is making progress toward implementing the Ten Steps.
Marci Brewer, The Gift’s program manager, said, “Louisiana hospitals are working hard to create a more positive breastfeeding culture and provide high quality, patient-centered care. Change isn’t easy, but we are gradually seeing improvements across the state. I applaud hospital administrations and staff members for their dedication to continually improving the care they provide; it has resulted in an unprecedented number of Gift and Baby-Friendly designations.”
The Gift program recognizes that support must extend beyond the hospital setting — increasing breastfeeding rates takes a village. The Ten Steps addresses the importance of establishing breastfeeding support groups and increasing awareness of such resources so mothers have the continued support they need to achieve their breastfeeding goals. When prenatal providers, communities and hospitals use consistent, evidence-based information, it is easier to provide practices that support optimal infant feeding and improve the quality of the birth experience for mother and baby.
To learn more about The Gift and other breastfeeding initiatives in Louisiana, visit thegiftla.org.