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Prevention Institute

March 6, 2012

New Report Highlights In-Hospital Breastfeeding Rates Across the State

Over 90 percent of California mothers make the decision to breastfeed during their hospital stay, yet just over half are breastfeeding exclusively upon hospital discharge, according to Maternity Care Matters: Overcoming Barriers to Breastfeeding, a report released last week by Strategic Alliance partner California WIC Association (CWA) and the UC Davis Human Lactation Center. The report underscores the critical role that hospital practices play in creating environments that ensure breastfeeding success.

Using data from the CA Department of Public Health Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Program, report authors compiled data on the 2010 breastfeeding rates for each hospital in the state. The findings highlight stark disparities in hospital breastfeeding practices: The lowest performing hospitals for breastfeeding in 2010 were those serving large numbers of low-income women of color, while hospitals with the highest rates of exclusive breastfeeding served mothers with higher incomes and less ethnic diversity. 

Strategic Alliance encourages Rapid Responders to use this new data to pitch a story to local reporters, write opinion pieces, and pen letters to the editor in response to local media coverage. Keep in mind: this study contains fact sheets of in-hospital breastfeeding rates by county; use them to highlight the state of breastfeeding in your community and make the case for organizational practice changes in hospitals to support exclusive breastfeeding.

Read some recent stories that have come out:

  • The Santa Cruz Sentinel used the data to draw attention to breastfeeding rates in its county, and highlighted the efforts of local Santa Cruz hospitals to achieve “Baby-Friendly” certification.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recently released a policy statement reaffirming its recommendation that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, with continued breastfeeding for one year or longer. The AAP declares breastfeeding the “normative standard” of infant feeding, and reframes breastfeeding as a “public health issue and not only a lifestyle choice.” Coverage of this statement in the Huffington Post, TIME, and the Sacramento Bee provide opportunities for advocates to insert their voice in the conversation via online comments and letters to the editor.
  • Recent news – from popstar and new mother Beyonce’s public breastfeeding sightings to a Georgia mother’s threats of public indecency charges for breastfeeding her child in church – have spurred conversation in the media and indicate there is more to be done before breastfeeding is seen as natural, normative, and no longer newsworthy. These stories provide an excellent opportunity to make the case that actively supporting breastfeeding in hospitals plays a critical role in setting the tone for how breastfeeding is perceived outside of hospitals.
Here are some talking points you could cover in your response:
  • Hospital policies and practices are one of the first influences on a woman’s decision to breastfeed. The first 24-72 hours of a child’s life – while the mother and baby are still in the hospital – is a critical window for initiating and practicing breastfeeding. Hospital practices such as a failure to provide skilled support, separating a new mother from her baby, delaying the first feeding, and providing formula supplementation can discourage mothers from continuing to breastfeed or carrying out their decision to breastfeed. 
  • Breastfeeding adds up. Illness and chronic disease related to poor nutrition and physical inactivity accounts for nearly 17% of our health care costs —that’s $168 million a year in medical costs alone. In addition to the health boosts breastfeeding provides, there are significant economic benefits to this low-cost intervention. If 90% of U.S. mothers exclusively breastfed for the first six months, the U.S. would save an estimated $13 billion annually in reduced medical costs.
  • Healthy communities means supporting breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding is one of the most important preventive care measures for children’s health, protecting against infections and chronic disease, and helping to build healthy immune systems. But mothers can’t do it alone. We need policies in place that support children’s health from the start – and that means shifting hospital practices so that they don’t undermine breastfeeding.
  • Hospital policies that promote and support breastfeeding can reduce health inequities. Evidence shows that hospitals that have implemented model policies around infant feeding show higher rates of exclusive breastfeeding among all income levels and ethnicities. Such policies level the playing field, providing all babies and mothers a fair chance at gaining the protections provided by breastfeeding – no matter where the baby is born.

Take Action on Food Marketing to Kids Today

Join Children Now, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and many others in telling the FTC to release the Interagency Working Group’s nutrition guidelines for foods marketed to children. The letter will be sent to the FTC’s Chairman Jon Leibowitz on March 8, so sign on today!

Learn More

For a more in-depth look at how to frame breastfeeding in the media, read Making the Case for Breastfeeding: The Health Argument Isn’t Enough.

Share your advocacy efforts with us!  Did you write a letter or pitch a story in support of baby-friendly hospitals? Send us a quick note so we can make sure your efforts are recognized.

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