The World Health Organization (WHO) has long since advocated for the promotion of breastfeeding for overall health.
They recognize that breastfeeding is an unequaled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants. They further advocate that it forms a unique biological and emotional basis for the health of both mother and child, that breast milk plays an important role in protecting infants against disease, and that encouraging and promoting breastfeeding is an important aspect of primary health care.
In November, the New York State Department of Health took an important step in updating their regulations to be consistent with the WHO’s evidence-based recommendations, including its “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding,” which summarize the maternity practices necessary to support breastfeeding and are the foundation of the WHO/UNICEF Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.
These recently-adopted changes to New York State’s perinatal services regulation could have an important impact in our community. These changes affect all general hospitals with maternity and newborn services, as well as hospital-affiliated clinics and practices that provide pregnancy-related care for women who are pregnant at any stage, in labor or within six weeks of delivery, or for infants who are 28 days of age or less or who weigh less than 5 1/2 pounds.
The regulation includes the following changes:
- Requiring breastfeeding policies and procedures to be developed, updated, implemented and disseminated annually to staff who provide maternity and infant care
- Educating women on the advantages of breastfeeding and the possible impacts of not breastfeeding
- Placing the newborn skin-to-skin with the mother immediately after birth
- Discontinuing routine use of pacifiers or artificial nipples with healthy, breastfeeding newborns
- Restricting the marketing of breast milk substitutes
- Informing mothers of community resources and making community referrals as appropriate
There are two main goals of this regulatory change. The first is to advance the goals of the New York State Prevention Agenda to increase exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. The second is to reduce health disparities for racial, ethnic, disability and low socioeconomic groups, as well as other populations who experience them.
Despite evidence of the many benefits of breastfeeding, far too many New York infants are receiving infant formula either for exclusive feeding or as a supplement to breastfeeding. New York State ranks among the highest of states for formula supplementation within the first two days of life. The state’s exclusive breastfeeding rates at three and six months are also below the national average, according to the CDC.
New mothers face a myriad of stresses and decisions when caring for infants. This challenge, combined with the watershed of information and advice they encounter, means medical providers play a critical role in determining a woman’s decision to initiate breastfeeding, seek support when faced with challenges such as supply or latch, and the duration which a family chooses to continue breastfeeding or else seek a formula alternative.
According to Dr. Ruth Lawrence, author of “Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession” and director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center:
“Physicians are the cornerstone of successful breastfeeding. It is the physician who confirms the value of breastfeeding for both the mother and the infant. But it is the physician who can destroy it, when the correct information and support are not provided by the physician to the mother.”
Here in the North Country, the Adopting Healthy Habits Breastfeeding Coalition is an organization of professionals and community members who promote practice, policy and environmental changes supporting the normalization of breastfeeding to increase life-long health by providing financial and education resources to the tri-county community at large. This coalition is currently working with healthcare providers to provide resources, education and other supports to assist with the implementation of these changes.
To learn how your medical provider or other business can obtain breastfeeding symbols, become more breastfeeding-friendly or to receive assistance in developing a breastfeeding policy, contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County at 315-788-8450 and ask for April Bennett.