MotherBaby Network

advocacy and commentary with a focus on Lane County, Oregon

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Part 2: Consumer Advocacy & Evidence-Based Infant Feeding Practices

Here’s the second “installment” for my upcoming presentation at the March 2-3 Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon’s 5h Annual Meeting. Blue text indicates information that will be placed on PowerPoint slides, black text indicates what will be said. I’d love your feedback either here or via email at motherbabynetwork@gmail.com. Read the first installment

This installment covers consumer demand, consensus spanning breastfeeding research, accountability organizations and national and state governments, and the new Joint Commission “Speak Up!”campaign.

What does consumer demand by the numbers look like?

Click on chart to enlarge

These statistics, taken from the CDC 2011 Breastfeeding Report beautifully illustrate the strong consumer demand on the part of women to breastfeed. Oregon has exceeded the Healthy People 2020 goal for 81.9% initiation of breastfeeding. What this tells us is that most women today plan to breastfeed – more than 91% initiate breastfeeding. This is great news. But within six months we see a dramatic drop-off, especially when we consider breastfeeding exclusivity. Why is this?

Behind these declining rates are the potholes and gaps of an inadequate infrastructure entirely incapable of meeting and supporting women and families in their infant feeding decision to breastfeed. Soon after or right along with the first latch, mothers and babies face multiple threats to breastfeeding from several angles that hound, hobble and thwart them all along the way. Behind these numbers lurk the stories of women and families who are forced into a choice they initially rejected – formula feeding. Who among us doesn’t know first or second hand the details of these unanticipated transitions to formula and the associated loss of maternal and child health benefits?

What these numbers also fail to illustrate are the social and ethnic inequities perpetuated via barriers to breastfeeding. Unacceptable disparities in breastfeeding persist by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic characteristics, and geography. Here in Oregon, only 25% of African-American mothers and babies are breastfeeding at six months, compared to the 62% of Oregonians. (ICTC Black Birth Survey)

Important as data collection is, standard metrics do not capture the emotions, frustrations and isolation women and families experience when faced with the unanticipated and multiple barriers that threaten and frequently succeed in separating babies and mothers from breastfeeding.

In sum, our maternity care system falls woefully short of meeting consumer demand for effective breastfeeding services. Fortunately, consumers (mothers) are beginning to connect the contradictory advice they receive from physicians, nurses, lactation consultants, nurses’ aids and housekeeping staff with the poor outcomes they experience. More women are beginning to see how gaps in standard hospital practice undermine them before they ever go home to struggle alone. The actions and activities of innumerable local and national groups sprouting up are giving voice to the dissatisfaction women and families feel with the standard of care.

Consumers are not alone in connecting the dots…..

Click on chart to enlarge

In the big picture, women are no longer alone in their search for meaningful support. The time for big change in maternity care is here.

Research

  • Health benefits. We are beyond debating the pros and cons of biologically normative infant feeding. Multiple short- and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies have been firmly established.
  • Hospital practice. Research conclusively demonstrates that evidence-based hospital practices positively influence breastfeeding duration and exclusivity.
  • Cost savings. Thanks to Bartick et al’s 2009 cost analysis (The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis), we also have clear documentation of the massive projected savings in dollars and lives that come with exclusive breastfeeding.
  • SIDS. 2011 research confirms breastfeeding is associated with reduced rates of SIDS. The effect is stronger when breastfeeding is exclusive. This finding has special significance for my community of Lane County. Between July 2007 and June 2010, 23.5% of 85 fetal-infant mortalities are among post-neonates (babies one month or older). Breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS.
  • Childhood obesity. Breastfeeding is associated with reduced odds of obesity throughout the life span with greater benefits conferred with exclusive breastfeeding. Breastfeeding promotion and childhood obesity risk reduction go together.

Accountability

Consumer voices and research findings are increasingly making their way to the top of the agenda for major actors in the development and implementation of health care policies. As these bodies move beyond signaling interest to taking action, forward-thinking hospitals will take action to be in position for a time when reimbursement dollars will be tied to breastfeeding outcomes. Action means adopting evidence-based practice for infant feeding.

  • CDC mPINC. A national survey of hospitals to measure infant feeding policies and practices. Facilities receive private analyses outlining their strengths and areas that need improvement. Unfortunately, consumers are not permitted access to facility-level reports.
  • Joint Commission. The nation’s most important hospital-accrediting body recently included exclusive breast milk feeding in its new perinatal core measure set.
  • US Surgeon General Call to Action and Healthy People 2020. Both documents guide national, state and local health policy making. Increasing the number of breastfed infants is a key public health goal.

Nation

  • Healthcare reform. is a major national issue. Promoting and protecting the rights of nursing mothers to pump included in legislation.
  • Let’s Move. The First Lady’s campaign includes breastfeeding as part of the solution to the childhood obesity epidemic.
  • Transforming Maternity Care. Maternity and infant care are the most expensive hospital condition in the United States – $98 billion in 2008. The US spends more than any other industrialized country on maternity and infant care. The outcomes do not support this spending. Any discussion of improving the healthcare delivery service must focus on maternity and infant care.
  • Breastfeeding. Discussion of infant feeding reform thus fits within a larger context spanning the entire perinatal period from conception through an infant’s first birthday.

Oregon

  • WIC. Oregon WIC is one of only 6 states awarded a Breastfeeding Performance Bonus from USDA, tied for the first time to exclusive breastfeeding rates.
  • Oregon Hospitals Partnering for Evidence-based Infant Nutrition. This is a statewide project of the BCO to provide facility-specific technical assistance and encouragement to hospitals adopting evidence-based practices. The May 2011 hospital summit brought hospitals and community groups together to develop plans for next steps. This summit provided my community’s two leading hospitals (McKenzie Willamette Medical Center and Sacred Heart Medical Center) with an opportunity to publicly share their commitment to become Baby Friendly-designated facilities.
  • Oregon Health Insurers Partnering for Prevention (OHIPP). This group of health insurers selected breastfeeding as an evidence-based prevention strategy for reducing obesity. Incentives to hospitals that attain the Baby-Friendly designation are being explored.

The Joint Commission’s message to mothers? Speak Up!

Now that consumers are joined by research scientists and health policy makers at the national and state levels, we are beginning to see efforts to encourage women to seek and insist on excellent infant feeding care. Having recently signaled to US hospitals that exclusive breast milk for infant nutrition is increasingly on the agenda by putting it as an optional perinatal performance measure, the Joint Commission is signaling again. This time, the Joint Commission is speaking directly to consumers. The Joint Commission’s new “Speak Up!” campaign tells mothers they must take action by “speaking up,” if they are to be successful in realizing their preference to breastfeed.

The medium for this latest signal is a brochure. There are several things to like about this campaign’s brochures:

  • It is intended for distribution during the prenatal period when women have the opportunity to think and plan ahead.
  • Breastfeeding, while a biological norm, is presented as a skill to be learned. Learning requires preparation before, during and after birth for mother and baby
  • Women and support people are encouraged to speak up and ADVOCATE for themselves to ensure they are receiving proper, evidence-based care. In other words, being a squeaky wheel is a good thing.
  • Telling women to speak up implies that they ought not assume their hospital’s care is in line with successful outcomes.
  • The information provided is consistent with Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative’s Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and, therefore, is evidence based.

Encouraging personal responsibility is laudable. That said, my reservation with this campaign is that it requires a consumer to have a rather deft capacity to read between the lines. The target audience is unlikely to be able to do this, if they are not first informed that the current and common infant feeding support they are likely to encounter is rife with serious deficits. A more straightforward approach would be great.

I suspect, however, the greatest significance of this campaign is the signal it sends to hospitals rather than to consumers. Brochures are a rather passive form of support that may or not be read by consumers. I am confident, however, that the administrators inside hospitals who make decisions about whether or not to pursue the Baby Friendly designation are able to see this campaign in a larger context – one in which an ever-clearer signal is being sent for hospitals to link doing a better job by consumers with accreditation status. Seen in this light, “Speak Up!” is a very positive development.

— End of installment 2, final installment coming soon. Feedback appreciated!

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Will Oregon hospitals close the breastfeeding care gap?

Evidence-based infant feeding care is the future for hospitals in the United States. Oregon is at a critical juncture: will it lead by building on the unique, forward-thinking approach for which it is known? Or, will it wait for other regions or states to lead? Waiting might make sense for some states but not for Oregon – the home of several cutting-edge leaders, thinkers and organizations where infant feeding is concerned.

Last week, representatives from 35 of Oregon’s 52 maternity hospitals participated in a day-long summit devoted to evidence-based infant nutrition. Provided with resources, expertise and mentoring, hospital teams developed action plans for closing the gap between current infant feeding practices and evidence-based mother-baby care. For background on the infant feeding gap, read “Closing the Quality Gap: Promoting Evidence-Based Breastfeeding Care in the Hospital.”

Prevalent non-evidence-based mother-baby practices include routine supplemental feedings of formula, repeat separation of mother and baby beginning with the first minutes of life and pervasive distribution of formula company marketing samples to breastfeeding mothers. Optimal care following birth includes skin-to-skin time, keeping mother and baby together and care from trained and educated staff. Optimal care occurs in a commercial-free environment.

The summit marked the half-way point in the year-long Oregon Hospitals Partnering for Evidence-based Infant Nutrition – a project of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon, one of five community coalitions supported by the Oregon Public Health Institute. (See The Lund Report’s coverage) Amelia Psmythe, director of the Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon, provided much of the vision, creative energy and sheer determination necessary to make this potentially-transformative opportunity available to Oregon hospitals. Because of her uniquely collaborative approach to the summit, teams returned to their respective hospitals prepared to begin the work of aligning infant feeding care with the high expectations mothers, families, communities, employers and governments at all levels have for them.

With the Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon as its principal organizer, the project develops collaborative relationships inside and outside hospitals and provides technical support to assist reform efforts. Funders include:

  • Oregon Public Health Institute
  • Multnomah County Health Department
  • Oregon WIC
  • Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems
  • Legacy Health System
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • Providence Health & Services
  • Oregon Health & Science University
  • Tuality Healthcare
  • Medela, Inc.

Funders as well as community partners attended the summit. Community partners included MotherBaby Network, Northwest Mother’s Milk Bank, the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon, Multnomah County Health Department, Multnomah WIC, the March of Dimes, the Oregon Health Authority and the United States Breastfeeding Committee.

US Sen. Jeff Merkley’s wife Mary Sorteberg, RN presented awards to the state’s five Baby Friendly facilities and to four with formal commitments to become designated. Visit the Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon’s Facebook page to see photos. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) – a global program sponsored by WHO and UNICEF to promote, protect and support breastfeeding – certifies hospitals practicing the Ten Steps for Successful Breastfeeding. Women receiving lactation services at a Baby Friendly facility can be confident of comprehensive evidence-based care.

The Centers for Disease Control is monitoring the project’s trajectory. Its early success engaging and leveraging the interests and resources of multiple constituencies inside and outside of Oregon hospitals warrants this attention. Depending on how the next several months unfold, an effective model for other states could result. Such a model would have national significance in light of the current CDC focus on encouraging exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life as the public health intervention with the greatest potential for addressing the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity.

Lane County

Lane County had a strong showing at the summit. The county is home to the state’s first facilities to earn Baby Friendly status: the PeaceHealth Nurse Midwifery Birth Center and the Cottage Grove Healthcare Community (since closed), both in 1997. The county’s two largest hospitals, Sacred Heart Medical Center and McKenzie Willamette Medical Center, both sent teams. All four facilities were acknowledged during the morning award’s ceremony. Lane County could be on the path toward evidence-based infant feeding as a community standard.

Lane County’s Desiree Nelson works on behalf of the project. Nelson led Cottage Grove’s hospital to become a designated facility in 1997 and, until recently, worked at the PeaceHealth Nurse Midwifery Birth Center. She is also co-founder, along with Debbie Jenson of Sacred Heart, of Baby Connection, a phenomenally successful grassroots demonstration project of evidence-based, drop-in breastfeeding support groups. The existence of post-discharge groups satisfies Baby Friendly step 10. Baby Connection serves all women and families.

What did hospital teams do?

Throughout the day, hospital teams developed facility-specific action plans. Team members included physicians, labor and delivery managers, family birth center managers, charge nurses, lactation consultants, childbirth educators and quality improvement staff. 

As a condition of participation, hospital teams arrived having reviewed the latest CDC 2009 benchmark data for their facility. This data is captured in the CDC Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) reports. Teams updated their benchmarks to reflect 2011. These advance team-based activities were intended to ensure familiarity with current practices and policies.

Aggregate state-level mPINC data will soon be available. Facility-specific results are currently anonymous. Anonymity is considered key to participation. Download a Sample Benchmark Report. mPINC reports for other states’ facilities are being printed now. The CDC expedited shipping to support the work of the summit.

At the summit, participants were guided by Carol Melcher, RNC, CLE, MPH – clinical director of San Bernardino’s Perinatal Services Network (PSN). Melcher has led numerous hospitals in San Bernardino county to achieve Baby Friendly designation. PSN instructs hospitals in the SOFT Approach which teaches hospitals to earn designation by building connections that align cultural and procedural priorities with evidence-based care. Needed connections include those between families and staff, between administrators and nurses, between hospitals and between communities and hospitals. These connections place collaboration ahead of competition.

A critical resource for results-oriented learning and facility-level planning was the multiple interactions teams had with small table mentors. Mentors brought expertise in one of three areas: hospital Quality Improvement,  leading a hospital to the Baby-Friendly designation, and large-scale systems change. Hospital teams worked with one of each type of mentor. Mentors volunteered their time at the summit as well as during an advance training session.

To provide an observation-free environment for hospital teams, community partners convened separately following the awards ceremony. They received a briefing on hospital team activities and a presentation by Northwest Mothers Milk Bank.

Why are hospitals ground zero for closing the infant feeding gap?

Hospital-based culture and practices create an environment in which individuals make long-lasting decisions about infant feeding. These first decisions and experiences heavily influence the ultimate role breastfeeding will play in the months to come. Hospital reform is critical for realigning prenatal, birth and postpartum environments to support —rather than thwart— individual feeding decisions that lead to the multiple positive outcomes associated with breastfeeding. Read this consumer survey to learn what women and families have to say about care in a Baby Friendly facility that aligns with their decision to breastfeed.

A well-known recent study reports that 911 deaths, mostly among infants, could be averted and $13 billion per year saved, if 90% of US families breastfeed exclusively for six months. Despite considerable room for improvement, Oregon leads the nation in breastfeeding benchmarks. It starts off with an “A” but quickly plummets to a failing grade by month six. Nine in 10 Oregonian women initiate breastfeeding. At six months, 2 in 10 babies are exclusively breastfed. Even with a failing grade, Oregon is frequently touted as an example for other states.

Like the CDC, the Oregon Health Insurers Partnering for Prevention (OHIPP), another OPHI project, is also monitoring the project. Comprised of health insurers (representing 65% of private insurance and 45% of Medicaid) and public health policy advocates, OHIPP is a collaborative obesity prevention effort. It has selected increasing breastfeeding rates as its first collaborative public health intervention. Imagine the potential for moving Oregon forward were insurers to set a date for implementing different rates of reimbursement depending on a hospital’s Baby Friendly status?

Sorteberg described Sen. Merkley’s state and national legislative efforts to protect and promote the rights of breastfeeding women in the workplace. Her comments highlighted the need to work across barriers so that women will have hospital care that lays the foundation for returning to work with plans to continue breastfeeding intact. Without effective hospital-based support systems, the potential for current legislation is severely undermined.

Effective community connections reach beyond hospitals

Developing opportunities for hospital teams to identify and work with their local community partners is critical to the project’s long-term prospects. The Surgeon General’s 2011 Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding encourages the involvement of multiple groups for the removal of barriers. Families, communities and employers also have an active role in removing barriers. Including these stakeholders in the work of hospital-practice reform is key ingredient for making long-lasting, sustainable change.

Oregon’s strong showing of community partners at the summit points to an inherent and potentially unexamined strength for creating not only a state network of Baby Friendly hospitals but a model of care consistent with current calls to develop patient / consumer engagement in healthcare-decision making models. The SOFT Approach begs to be made Oregonian by actively including the perspectives of local community stakeholders in hospital teams.

What might this look like? Hospital teams can add a healthcare consumer of breastfeeding services to their efforts. Breastfeeding coalitions, La Leche groups, WIC peer counselors and healthy baby coalitions are potential sources for participants with relevant consumer perspectives. As the project moves beyond the summit to develop state-level collaborative frameworks, meaningful inclusion of local community partners should be a priority, too.

Women frequently take the lead in decision making for nuclear and extended family members. The manner and degree in which they participate in healthcare decisions during pregnancy and postpartum have major implications beyond infant feeding. Consumer (or patient) engagement promotes effective partnering for prevention and treatment practices throughout the life cycle. Including consumer perspectives in the discussions and planning that must occur to close the infant feeding gap has the potential to set the even further-reaching example of the kind of collaboration needed to make quality healthcare more affordable and accessible across the life cycle.

Beyond the summit

Urban or rural, rich or poor, large or small, degree and type of diversity among populations served  – these are not the characteristics that determine a hospital’s capacity to become Baby Friendly. Commitment to building the necessary connections for closing the current gap is the single-most important distinguishing characteristic for change. Developing and utilizing internal and external lines of communication within and among hospitals as well as with community stakeholders and setting milestone dates are far more important than specific facility characteristics. Facilities making the needed commitments and seeking opportunities to collaborate are in a position to close the infant feeding gap. Those who succeed will align with their mission by honoring their obligation to the mothers and babies of Oregon. It is possible that Oregon could make evidence-based infant feeding care a statewide community standard.

 

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Decisions About Infant Feeding Do Not Happen in a Vacuum – Context Matters

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Oregon Research Institute recently hosted a public lecture – “Addressing the Nation’s Crisis with Nutrition and Obesity” – by Kelly Brownell, director of Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. In the past several years, obesity prevention has gained enough traction to be a well-established national health priority. Public and private funders are actively looking for solutions to cut down on the enormous and growing costs of addressing the innumerable diseases and suffering associated with and exacerbated by obesity.

Curious to see if breastfeeding would figure into the lecture, I attended…

What’s the connection between obesity reduction and breastfeeding? Breastfed children experience lower rates of obesity than do formula-fed babies. Why? “Scientists do not know exactly why… Some people think that a breastfed child can better control how much he or she eats and so may become accustomed to eating less than a bottle-fed child… Also, babies who are breastfed have lower levels of insulin, a hormone that promotes fat storage.”

Because breastfeeding is associated with better outcomes, it, too, is enjoying newfound traction in policymaking circles. Oregon’s one-a-kind insurance collaborative – Oregon Health Insurers Partnering for Prevention (OHIPP) – selected breastfeeding as its first intervention intended to reduce obesity. Nationally, Michelle Obama promotes breastfeeding as part her campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

A well-known recent study reports that 911 deaths, mostly among infants, could be averted and $13 billion per year saved, if 90% of US family could follow medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for six months. Nine in 10 Oregonian women initiate breastfeeding. This number declines rapidly so that at six months, 2 in 10 babies are exclusively breastfed.

After establishing obesity as a global epidemic of the first order, Kelly focused his lecture on reduction and prevention in the United States through meaningfully addressing the manufacture and sale of the foods and beverages fueling today’s ghastly health outcomes. Breastfeeding was not discussed. However, the ideas and suggested pathways to obesity reduction that Kelly sketched out are well suited to the development of strategies for reforming the inadequate breastfeeding support models currently accessible to most women and babies here in Lane County and elsewhere.

…reform comes when the environment in which individual choices are made is geared to support rather than thwart decisions that align with healthy, positive outcomes…

Reform: Clean Up for Infant Feeding Models

Brownell argues that real reform comes when the environment in which individual choices are made is geared to support rather than thwart decisions that align with healthy, positive outcomes. Currently, models to promote well-being, whether for nutrition or infant feeding, exist within an environment that encourages behaviors associated with poor outcomes. Today’s decision-making environment for infant feeding is shaped by legislation, regulation and economic prerogatives that promote and protect the interests of manufacturers and non-evidence-based practices at the expense of individual, family and community wellbeing. The current “default settings,” as Kelly refers to them, run counter to science, transparency and good health practices.

In this kind of “toxic” decision-making environment, Brownell describes the disproportionate responsibility individuals bear in becoming educated and motivated to identify evidence-based or effective care and accessing it.  Current default settings put consumers at so great and extreme a disadvantage in making informed decisions that it is unreasonable to expect improved outcomes to result from individual responsibility alone. In other words, individuals are “thrown to the wolves” and then summarily blamed for making the wrong decision – all in the name of personal responsibility.

What is needed to address an asymmetrical and toxic decision-making environment? The default settings must be reset to optimize individual decision making and public well-being. Legislation, regulation and economic practice must be redirected to protect and reward practices that promote rather than undermine individual and national health and economic well-being.

Anyone following funding for Women, Infants and Children can see the power of formula company interest groups on full display. Through costly and effective lobbying campaigns, these companies succeed in shaping national policy for their own benefit and at an extraordinarily high cost to everyone else. These companies create the toxic environment in which WIC is cornered into purchasing and providing formula rather than evidence-based infant feeding support systems. To think the nation’s most vulnerable women and children bear responsibility for allowing this to happen is ludicrous.

Shifting a decision-making environment to empower choices in line with good health and economic outcomes is not a new idea. Before obesity reduction and breastfeeding promotion managed to make it onto the national agenda, other examples abound in which default settings have been positively reset. Smoking cessation and tobacco regulation is just one, good and well-known example. Another example? Air bags. All new cars now come equipped with them but this wasn’t always so. Having one or not is not a private but a public decision. This idea is so firmly supported by legislation and regulation that buying a new car without one is impossible.

Improvement looks like…

What if default settings for infant feeding were optimized to serve the nutritional and economic interests of women, babies, families and communities? Here are few ideas for what a non-toxic environment would look like….

  • Evidence-based breastfeeding models of care in hospitals and birth centers
  • Higher reimbursement rates for evidence-based facilities and providers
  • Universal access to early and comprehensive prenatal care
  • Access to evidence-based childbirth and breastfeeding education as part of prenatal care
  • Effective employer-based supports systems to support breastfeeding mothers

In Lane County, there are positive signs of increased access to evidence-based breastfeeding models. Sacred Heart Medical Center is pursuing the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative designation for evidence-based care. McKenzie Willamette Medical Center reports being in the midst of internal discussions about a similar commitment to mothers and babies in our community. The PeaceHealth Nurse Midwifery Birth Center is already one of Oregon’s five designated facilities. See what women who access breastfeeding care have to say about Baby Friendly care – read A Consumer Survey on Baby Friendly Breastfeeding Services.