Viewpoint: Washington County Breastfeeding Coalition helping familiesThe WCBC envisions “a community where breastfeeding is the norm and where families are supported and empowered to achieve their breastfeeding goals.”
By: Leigh Ann AhMad, South Washington County Bulletin
Clinical studies which draw a comparison between bottle-fed and breast-fed babies demonstrate a huge advantage for the “breast is best” argument. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breast-fed exclusively for the first six months of life, then breast-fed and provided complementary foods up to a year or more. In 2011, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin issued a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding”
The call to action cites a number of disproportionately higher health risk factors for those babies that are bottle-fed. For example, bottle-fed babies have: 250 percent more likely risk of being hospitalized for lower respiratory tract infections, 100 percent more likely risk of having acute ear infections, and 30 percent more likely to become an obese baby. The Surgeon General’s Office also draws a direct connection between bottle-feeding and later-in-life chronic disease such as diabetes (60 percent more likely).
The Minnesota Department of Health issued its own call to action, citing breastfeeding as a primary means of combating obesity and obesity-related illnesses. This has helped to spur the growth of groups like the Washington County Breastfeeding Coalition (WCBC). WCBC envisions “a community where breastfeeding is the norm and where families are supported and empowered to achieve their breastfeeding goals.” WCBC is an alliance of men and women representing Allina Medical, Fairview Lakes, Grace Medical Supply, La Leche League, Lakeview Health, Stillwater Medical Group, Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment, Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Woodwinds Hospital in Woodbury.
With support from Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) funds, the WCBC initial efforts were to: develop a lactation resource guide, offer professional training and support the local partners working on breastfeeding issues including the three hospital systems that initiated the Baby Friendly Hospital (BFHI) certification process.
BFHI supports those hospitals seeking a quality improvement program for their maternity services by providing policy and systems- change guidelines. To ensure best practices in support of breastfeeding, BFHI requires hospitals to stop the practice of accepting free or reduced-cost formula — a bold move considering that gifts of formula have historically presented a huge cost-savings for hospitals.
“By accepting free formula you are, in a sense, part of the formula marketing and endorsement plan,” explained Jeanette Schwartz, clinical director for the Maternity Care Center at Woodwinds.
“It’s not that we won’t offer formula, but under BFHI guidelines, we have clear priorities: breastfeed first, use expressed milk second, utilize donor milk third, and if need be, use formula as a last effort,” said Schwartz. “We anticipate our families returning home feeling confident in their ability to continue with breastfeeding.”
With the goal of helping families and communities provide their children the best start in life in order become healthy and productive adults, WCBC is creating ripples of change in what may soon be a tidal wave.
Leigh Ann Ahmad is a Woodbury resident