Much has been written about the benefits of breastfeeding, but the overarching reason that exclusive breastfeeding promotion is such an important initiative for groups like the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, World Health Organization, Baby-Friendly USA and the American Academy of Pediatrics is that breastfeeding is a preventive care issue.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that breastfeeding reduces the lifetime risk of diseases such as diabetes, asthma, obesity, heart disease and several types of cancer. As healthcare trends toward keeping people healthy rather than providing sick care, breastfeeding is an ideal way to keep the population well over time.
At East Jefferson General Hospital (EJGH) we took the commitment to exclusive breastfeeding a step further to become a baby-friendly hospital. Earning our baby-friendly designation was a rigorous 2-year process that challenged EJGH maternity staff to collaborate and implement innovative ideas for educating staff and patients about breastfeeding. Here’s what we learned along the way that might help you as your hospital pursues baby-friendly status.
EJGH remains 1 of just 5 hospitals in Louisiana with baby-friendly status and we are proud to be recognized globally for the high quality of care we provide.
What is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative?
According to former U.S. Surgeon General Regina A. Benjamin, M.D.:
"Health care systems should ensure that maternity care practices provide education and counseling on breastfeeding. Hospitals should become more ‘baby-friendly,’ by taking steps like those recommended by the UNICEF/WHO’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.”
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a program to encourage breastfeeding and infant/mother bonding. It rewards hospitals that fulfill the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding with Baby-Friendly Hospital status.
Becoming a baby-friendly hospital is a staff development opportunity.
Many hospitals start on the path to baby-friendly to attract new patients and show a commitment to evidence-based infant and maternal care practices. Certainly, this is at the core of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. At EJGH, it also represents a commitment to the ongoing professional development and satisfaction of our OB staff.
We introduced digital staff education on supporting exclusive breastfeeding among new mothers as one of the innovative ways of achieving baby-friendly status. Our staff was able to access this training on any computer or mobile device at any time, and they appreciated the ease of delivery and the ability to learn on their own time.
Perinatal staff can access breastfeeding education at their convenience.
Unlike on-site classes or trainings that live in our hospital’s internal learning management system, which we also use as part of our training strategy, our digital tool for staff breastfeeding education let staff learn at their convenience—at work or at home, at the hospital or remotely.
With some staff living more than an hour away from the hospital, this kind of alternative education is a valuable benefit, allowing them to do some of their training off-site instead of coming into the hospital at times when they’re not already scheduled to work.
We could also easily track who completed the training, using engagement data inside the digital solution. This is especially important because you have to show proof of 20 hours of staff education to get the baby-friendly designation.
Baby-friendly status helps with recruitment.
Our baby-friendly status has helped us recruit a higher caliber of nursing and lactation staff.
As I interview candidates, they will sometimes name both our baby-friendly and magnet hospital status as reasons that they want to work at EJGH. As a magnet facility, we have a responsibility to provide professional development. In this regard, our digital education is a useful tool for onboarding new staff and those transferring to the department, keeping them up-to-date with evidence-based information.
Baby-friendly has become part of our brand.
If you haven’t guessed by now, our hospital is very quality-focused. The baby-friendly designation helps staff, patients and our community understand what we stand for. It sets the expectation for the type of care they will receive at EJGH.
In the southern U.S., the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was not initially recognized as much as it was elsewhere. Through statewide educational efforts from the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and the Bureau of Family Health, the public is starting to understand the benefits of breastfeeding. In fact, some of our own lactation consultants have been involved in the work these departments are doing to promote breastfeeding.
Now, patients are learning that being a Baby-Friendly Hospital is a prestigious designation and they’re starting to comment on it. In the age of consumer-driven healthcare, it makes EJGH stand out.