Health care professionals agree that, when it comes to feeding baby, the best formula is breast milk. As part of a UNICEF and World Health Organization initiative, more and more hospitals around the world are taking steps to help new mothers breastfeed successfully – and Cape Cod Hospital is among them.
Cape Cod Healthcare created a breastfeeding task force last fall to help Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals achieve the program's “Baby Friendly” certification. Task force member Jodi Belson of Harwich, a certified nurse midwife, said the effort acknowledges a clear medical truth.
“Breastfeeding has benefits for both mom and baby,” she said. Babies who are breast-fed from the start have a lower incidence of ear infections and certain gastrointestinal disorders. Experts say human milk provides the optimal mix of nutrients and antibodies necessary for a baby to thrive. Scientific studies have shown that breastfed children have far fewer and less serious illnesses than those who never receive breast milk, including a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome, childhood cancers and diabetes. At least one study suggests that breast-fed babies tend to have higher IQ's.
Mothers who breastfeed their infants have a decreased risk of diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, anemia and osteoporosis. They also have a lower incidence of postpartum depression, Belson said.
Aside from the health benefits, there are other compelling reasons for women to breastfeed babies. According to www.BabyFriendlyUSA.org, choosing breastfeeding over baby formula has environmental benefits because it eliminates packaging waste and the energy spent on preparing, packaging and transporting baby formula. With six-packs of powdered baby formula costing upwards of $100, breastfeeding can also help families save money. Studies have shown that there is less absenteeism from work among breastfeeding families. When babies are breastfed, both mother and baby are healthier throughout their lives, leading to lower health care costs for families, insurers and the government.
“It's clear that breastfeeding has benefits,” Belson said.
To obtain Baby Friendly status, a hospital must achieve a detailed set of criteria summed up by a 10-step plan. Certified hospitals have a written breastfeeding policy that's regularly shared with all staff, accompanied by training. All pregnant patients must be informed about the benefits of breastfeeding, and mothers must be helped to initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth. Mothers must be taught how to breastfeed and to maintain lactation, and the hospital must avoid giving infants pacifiers, artificial nipples or any drink other than breast milk, unless doing so is medically indicated. The hospital should allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day, and should encourage mothers to breast-feed their infants on demand, rather than on a schedule. Finally, the hospital needs to refer new mothers to breastfeeding support groups.
Cape Cod Hospital has already achieved a number of those steps, and hopes to win full certification in the next couple years. The hospital has a policy in place and has two lactation counselors who work one-on-one with new mothers, Belson added. “We are not giving formula unless it's medically indicated or it's the parents' choice,” she said.
Tobey Hospital in Wareham recently received the Baby Friendly designation, and Cape Cod, Falmouth and Beth Israel Plymouth hospitals are all currently working toward the certification, Belson said.