The Long-Term Value of Better Breastfeeding Support

Posted February 09, 2016 by Liz Barker

Nurse With Mother and Newborn
Investing in improved maternity practices can lead to major quality gains, jumps in patient satisfaction, and slashed healthcare costs—not to mention its power to drive up breastfeeding rates and protect the health of both moms and babies.

For hospitals and patients alike, the benefits of boosting breastfeeding support last far beyond any hospital stay. Investing in improved maternity practices can lead to major quality gains, jumps in patient satisfaction, and slashed healthcare costs—not to mention its power to drive up breastfeeding rates and protect the health of both moms and babies.

In hospitals that have already made strides in improving maternity care—including those participating in NICHQ’s multiple breastfeeding initiatives—putting Baby-Friendly policies in place has gone a long way in changing the breastfeeding culture in these communities, says NICHQ’s Senior Director of Perinatal Projects Jennifer Ustianov, MS, BSN, RN, IBCLC.

“Nationally, nearly 80 percent of women start out breastfeeding, yet less than half report they did not meet their goals,” says Ustianov. “Once the community starts to understand the value of your hospital’s focus on helping patients fulfill those goals, more and more women will seek out this kind of care and decide to deliver at your hospital.”

Offering evidence-based maternity care best practices has market share ramifications. For instance, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth was recently named the Best Place to Have a Baby in its county, an honor that hospital officials attribute to Texas Health Fort Worth’s Baby-Friendly designation. (The designation recognizes birthing facilities that successfully implement the evidence-based Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.)

“Families come to our hospital because they know they’ll get the best care, and that it’s evidence-based,” says Becky Law, RN, Texas Health’s manager of Lactation and Childbirth Education. Texas Health Forth Worth is a participant in the NICHQ led Texas Ten Step Star Achiever Breastfeeding Learning Collaborative.

Providing evidence-based support has led to higher breastfeeding rates at Texas Health Fort Worth. They went from a breastfeeding rate of 83 percent in 2010 to 91 percent in 2015, with exclusive-breastfeeding rates climbing from 44 percent to 80 percent in that same time period. Law notes that Texas Health Fort Worth’s increased investment in maternity care has helped strengthen its day-to-day performance, as shown in the hospital’s Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care score (a quality measurement determined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The short-term wins to be had from better breastfeeding support are many: fewer ear infections, less GI upset, and decreased risk of SIDS for babies; lower stress levels and less depression for moms. There’s also some evidence that breastfeeding moms may have a lower risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and ovarian cancer, while breastfed babies may be less likely to develop childhood obesity, allergies and asthma, and skin conditions such as eczema.

But over time, improved maternal care practices could have an even more powerful impact. In a recent study from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, for example, breast cancer patients who had previously breastfed appeared to face a 30 percent overall reduced risk of the disease recurring.

With those health gains comes another key benefit to improved maternal care: sizable savings in healthcare costs. A report in the journal Pediatrics in 2010 found that the United States could save $13 billion per year if 90 percent of American families exclusively breastfed for just six months. Those savings would largely stem from a reduced risk of pediatric diseases ranging from respiratory infections to type 1 diabetes, according to the report’s authors.

Even hospital staff members could reap lasting rewards from improved maternal care, suggests Law.

“The motivation of working toward a goal and achieving designation results in satisfaction from the staff,” she says. “Nursing is a calling and not a job, and the nurses that work in our Women and Infants division want what is best for the patients and families they care for.”

With awareness of breastfeeding’s advantages beginning to grow throughout the U.S., Ustianov calls for more research to support the long-term value of improved maternal care.

“The fact is that the greatest benefits of these practices have yet to be realized by hospitals,” Ustianov says. “If we could get more data, it could give hospital leaders the incentive that’s really needed to embrace these changes, making a big difference in breastfeeding and health outcomes.”

Learn more about NICHQ’s breastfeeding work and how to partner with NICHQ to help your hospital improve its maternity care practices.


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