Two local hospitals join effort to promote breastfeeding

“Now, we know from research that moms and babies do best, and the whole family does best, when they stay together immediately after birth.” Kim faught, vice president of nursing, Tulane-Lakeside Hospital

There were no sweetly swaddled newborn babies to admire Wednesday morning in the nursery of East Jefferson General Hospital. And that’s just the way Paula Adamcewicz likes it.

“We want to minimize the baby and mom being separated,” said Adamcewicz, who is in charge of the hospital’s women and child services. “(Separation) really is not necessary.”

Instead of being scooped up and whisked away, babies born at East Jefferson are weighed, measured, tested and bathed all in the same room with their mothers.

The practice, known as “rooming in,” is one of several operational changes that the maternity wards at East Jefferson and Tulane-Lakeside Hospital have made as part of the Best Fed Beginnings program, a nationwide initiative designed to help hospitals improve maternity care and increase the number of “baby-friendly” hospitals in the United States.

The program’s major goal is to increase the number of breastfed babies.

The $6 million initiative began last year and will conclude in September 2014.

The 89 participating hospitals must complete the American Academy of Pediatrics-endorsed Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding program. By doing so, they will receive a “baby-friendly” designation from the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cites many short- and long-term health advantages for infants in its endorsement of breastfeeding as a “basic health issue” and not a “lifestyle choice.”

However, only about 53 percent of Louisiana infants are ever breastfed, compared with about 77 percent nationally, and fewer than 10 percent of Louisiana infants are exclusively breastfed for six months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That compares with 16.3 percent nationally. Louisiana is ranked 44th in the nation for the percentage of infants who are ever breastfed, according to the state health department.

“Clearly, we’d want it to be a lot higher than that,” said Kathy Kliebert, secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals. “Breastfeeding has so many good benefits, not just for the baby, but for the mom.”

The benefits extend to the state healthcare system, she said. “It’s a fiscal investment as well,” Kliebert said. “We save as a state.”

Kliebert referenced a 2012 study by researchers at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, who found that Louisiana could save $216 million annually and prevent 18 deaths a year if 90 percent of newborns were exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life.

The study compared the rates of respiratory tract infections, infectious diarrhea, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and gastroenteritis necrotizing, a gastrointestinal disease, in infants who were exclusively breastfed with those who received formula. The rates of disease and, therefore, the associated costs were higher with the latter group, researchers said.

The Best Fed Beginnings initiative is a step toward improving the state’s performance, Kliebert said.

She toured East Jefferson hospital and met with nurses Wednesday. She will visit Tulane-Lakeside on Thursday.

In addition to supporting and promoting “rooming in,” both hospitals are pushing sometimes resistant physicians to educate patients on breastfeeding as an option and are offering lactation classes not just to nurses, but also to nursing assistants, technicians and other maternity staff. They also are collaborating with each other and with groups like the Greater New Orleans Breastfeeding Awareness Coalition, which is launching an awareness campaign.

The idea is to establish breastfeeding as normative, said Kim Faught, vice president of nursing at Tulane-Lakeside Hospital.

For instance, the seemingly simple change of “rooming in” supports breastfeeding because the new mom can notice cues when her newborn begins to get hungry, instead of having a nurse deliver an already fussy baby, which might make the breastfeeding experience more difficult and less likely to continue, Faught said.

“This is really a change in culture for all of the perinatal staff,” she said. “When I had my children — the youngest being 15 — it was, ‘Oh look at your baby. Isn’t she cute? We’re going to wrap her up and we’re taking her to the nursery.’ Now, we know from research that moms and babies do best, and the whole family does best, when they stay together immediately after birth.”

At Tulane-Lakeside and East Jefferson, babies are placed on their mothers’ chest right after birth for skin-to-skin contact, which has been shown to stabilize a baby’s temperature and heart and breathing rates.

When Stephanie Raines gave birth to her son Gage five years ago at Tulane-Lakeside, he was taken away almost immediately.

“The skin-to-skin thing, they didn’t push that when I had Gage,” she said. “I didn’t even get him for a couple of hours after.”

On Tuesday morning, she was able to hold her newborn, Jayce, for an hour after his birth, even though he was delivered in an operating room via Caesarean section. Jayce began nursing shortly thereafter.

“I like it better that way,” Raines said. “I’m protective. I want to keep my eye on him.”