In recent weeks, Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center and Carolinas Medical Center each received an international designation as “Baby-Friendly.”
You might ask: Isn’t every hospital that delivers babies friendly to newborns?
It depends on the definition of “friendly.”
In this case, Baby-Friendly means improving the health of mothers and babies through breast-feeding and skin-to-skin bonding.
The designation, awarded by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, is “highly coveted and very difficult to attain,” said Dr. Laura Sinai, North Carolina breastfeeding coordinator for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Charlotte’s two hospitals are among eight sites in North Carolina that qualified.
As part of the process, both Presbyterian and CMC have adopted practices that encourage bonding and improve a baby’s ability to breast-feed. They employ lactation consultants to assist mothers in gaining the skills and confidence to breast-feed. They also encourage immediate skin-to-skin contact. And they encourage mothers to keep newborns in the room with them instead of in a separate nursery.
Laura Corsig, a Novant Health lactation consultant, said the effort also involved educating “the entire team” – from those who provide prenatal care to those who care for newborns.
Pediatrics experts recommend that mothers breast-feed exclusively until babies are 6 months old and continue until at least their first birthday. Research shows breast-fed babies benefit by having a lower risk of asthma, ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome and other medical problems. Mothers also benefit from a lower risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Sinai said a number of factors have resulted in routine and unnecessary use of formula, instead of breast-feeding, including inadequate breast-feeding education for doctors and nurses, maternity center practices that separate mother and baby, and extensive marketing by formula manufacturers.
“Sadly, surveys of hospital practice make it quite clear that most maternity wards have a way to go” to meet Baby-Friendly criteria, Sinai said.
Becoming Baby-Friendly required “a cultural change,” said Pat Campbell, vice president for women’s services in Novant’s Greater Charlotte market.
In 2010, Presbyterian had separate nursing staffs for newborns in the nursery and for mothers in the post-partum area. Now, nurses care for both mother and baby and “encourage rooming-in as much as possible,” Campbell said.
In three years, the rate of mothers who breast-feed exclusively while at Presbyterian has risen from 35 to 70 percent.
But the idea is not to make any mothers feel guilty, Corsig said. “When a mom says she wants to breast-feed, our job is to do everything we can do to support her. If her goal is to do something different, then our goal is to support her in that too.”