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 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.