For the past 25 years, the first week in August has been known as World Breastfeeding Week.
University Health Care System (UHCS) recognizes the importance of breastfeeding for both personal and public health and will be celebrating August as Georgia Breastfeeding Month.
Breastfeeding rates have increased significantly across the country over the past four decades, following many years of research, education and support for breastfeeding mothers.
At UHCS, our mission is to improve the health of those we serve. As breastfeeding rates increase in the CSRA, the impact to our area’s quality of life will be enormous and will extend to generations of children who will enjoy better health for a lifetime.
Georgia has made great strides to support breastfeeding. The Department of Public Health launched a statewide initiative, Georgia 5-STAR, to improve hospital support for breastfeeding mothers. The Georgia 5-STAR Initiative Project recognizes hospitals with one star for every two of “The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” they implement.
UHCS intends to gain Georgia 5-STAR designation. The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, developed by a team of global experts, includes evidence-based practices that have been shown to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration.
The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding are:
• Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
• Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
• Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
• Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
• Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
• Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
• Practice “rooming-in” – allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
• Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
• Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
• Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
In 1976, only 36 percent of moms initiated breastfeeding, and only 14 percent were still breastfeeding at six months.
Data released in 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 81.1 percent of mothers nationally initiate breastfeeding (69.2 percent in Georgia), 51.8 percent are still breastfeeding at six months (48.9 percent in Georgia), and 30.7 percent continue for 12 months (29.8 percent in Georgia).
Forty years of research has repeatedly shown that compared with babies who are breastfed (especially breastfed exclusively) for three to six months, formula-fed babies in the developed world have higher risks of ear infections, eczema, gastrointestinal infections, asthma, diabetes, childhood leukemia, sudden infant death syndrome and obesity – as well as a potential for lower IQ.
Mothers who do not breastfeed have a higher risk of premenopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Exclusive breastfeeding for six months and breastfeeding for at least a year or longer is considered the best health practice for baby and mother. This is a goal of the World Health Organization (WHO); The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund; United States Department of Health and Human Services; The American Academy of Pediatrics; and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
UHCS opened its Human Milk Lab in Augusta in 2016 to provide human milk to the tiniest infants in our Special Care Nursery. Since implementation of the Human Milk Lab, UHCS has seen a dramatic decrease in the incidence of Necrotizing Enterocolitis, a severe medical condition primarily seen in preterm infants where portions of the bowel die off causing severe infection and sometimes death to the baby.
UHCS is excited to support area families by celebrating World Breastfeeding Week and Georgia Breastfeeding Month with activities to raise awareness about breastfeeding among patients and staff, special gifts for all babies born at UHCS during this week, and a kickoff of the Georgia 5-STAR initiative.
To learn more about maternity care services offered at University Health Care System, please visit universityhealth.org.
The writer is administrative director of the W.G. Watson Women’s Center at University Health Care System.