Lactation consultant Rebecca Kusche, right, places a doll next to RN Kaylee Debeck as they demonstrate the techniques for helping mothers with breast-feeding at Harrison Medical Center in Silverdale. (Photo: Meegan M. Reid / Kitsap Sun)
SILVERDALE — More than 1,900 babies were born at Harrison Medical Center in Silverdale last year and many of their mothers embarked on a new journey: breastfeeding.
Research has shown that breastfeeding provides a host of advantages for both babies and mothers. Breastfed babies are at lower risk for numerous conditions including obesity, Type 2 diabetes and sudden infant death syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The health benefits are just huge,” said Tamara Leal, director of the Harrison Family Birth Center. “It’s beneficial to the whole community.”
While the benefits of breastfeeding may be clear, the act of nursing isn’t always so simple. Breastfeeding can be a powerful and fulfilling experience for mothers, but the process can also be painful, frustrating and fraught with conflicting advice, especially in the first days and weeks of a baby’s life.
To help exhausted new parents succeed, Harrison Medical Center has placed special emphasis on improving policies and staff training over the past six years to encourage and support breastfeeding.
Hospital staff ‘making a huge difference’
The Department of Health recognized Harrison in March for reaching the “Gold Level” of its Breastfeeding Friendly Washington Hospitals program. Following the program, Harrison has implemented 10 steps to promote breastfeeding, including educating pregnant patients regarding the benefits of breastfeeding, placing babies skin-to-skin with mothers for an hour after birth, providing only breast milk to infants unless there is a medical reason not to, and not providing pacifiers that could interfere with natural breastfeeding.
To reach Gold Level, Harrison provided maternity nurses with 15 hours of breastfeeding training and five hours of supervised training with Harrison lactation specialist Rebecca Kusche. Physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners received three hours of training.
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About 90 percent of new mothers now begin breastfeeding at Harrison after giving birth, according to the hospital. Leal said staff members have embraced the project.
“They’ve driven this,” she said. “You have a strong belief what you’re doing is making a huge difference in the community.”
The state’s Breastfeeding Friendly program aligns with the goals of the broader Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, an international designation Harrison will apply for this spring.
More support for moms
Breastfeeding mothers haven’t always enjoyed strong support in hospitals.
For decades, corporations manufacturing baby formula swamped maternity departments and doctors offices with marketing materials and free samples to promote their products to new mothers. A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found breastfeeding mothers who were given free “discharge packs” containing formula samples when they left the hospital were less likely to continue exclusively breastfeeding for more than 10 weeks.
“It used to be just given out very easily” Harrison clinical nurse specialist Peggy Visher said of formula.
The World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1991, in part to counter marketing efforts of formula companies and encourage breastfeeding as a healthy alternative. The state’s Breastfeeding Friendly designation — a separate program from Baby-Friendly — recognizes hospitals for achieving milestones related to breastfeeding.
Dr. Monica Richter, a Renton pediatrician and lactation consultant who serves as a breastfeeding expert for the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the Breastfeeding Friendly program has helped reduce the influence of formula makers and promoted consistent, science-based information to parents so they can make educated decisions.
“By educating staff, parents are getting a uniform message and are therefore more likely to succeed in breastfeeding,” Richter said.
Richter said it’s important that message is delivered without pressure or judgment — new mothers feel enough of that already.
“It’s a subject you need to approach carefully so you don’t instill guilt in parents who aren’t successful,” she said.
More improvements afoot
Harrison has extended its Breastfeeding Friendly training to its affiliated outpatient clinics to ensure parents receive consistent information from pediatricians and birth center staff. The hospital is also finalizing paperwork to begin working with Northwest Mothers Milk Bank to provide safe, donated breast milk to babies who need it.
Leal said Harrison is collaborating more closely with midwives to ensure that people who choose to give birth at home or in an independent birth center can transition smoothly to the hospital if needed.
These initiatives can have a huge effect on the health of the community, Leal noted, given that an average of about 2,000 babies are born at Harrison Silverdale each year.
“And we’re only expecting to grow,” she added.
For more information on breastfeeding, go to doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/Breastfeeding
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