The Value of Increasing Exclusive Breastfeeding along the Texas-Mexico Border

Posted February 04, 2016 by Wendy Loveland

Hispanic Mother Nursing
Even a small increase in breastfeeding rates in the Texas Rio Grande Valley can have a substantial impact on the long term overall health of the community, especially one where diabetes and obesity is widespread.

With almost 9,000 births per year, The Women's Hospital at Renaissance in Texas' Rio Grande Valley is the area's busiest birthing center. Like other communities along the Texas-Mexico border, most "Valley" residents are Hispanic, and the population is characterized by high rates of poverty, low rates of health insurance coverage, and significant health disparities, including high rates of obesity and diabetes. This area of the state also has the lowest rate of early exclusive breastfeeding.

A baseline report shows that only 15 percent of infants born in South Texas (Health Service Region 11) in 2009 were exclusively breastfed on their second day of life compared to 42 percent of infants in Texas overall, and as many as 55 percent in other parts of the state. An increase in exclusive breastfeeding in the Valley could not only increase the state’s overall rate, but could provide a roadmap for other similar communities to follow to improve the health of their residents.

NICHQ's Texas Ten Step Star Achiever Breastfeeding Learning Collaborative is helping Texas hospitals—like The Women's Hospital at Renaissance—to use quality improvement methods to adopt a bundle of recommended maternity care practices known as the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. These practices have shown to improve breastfeeding outcomes, including rates of exclusive breastfeeding. The Women’s Hospital at Renaissance is part of the last of the three groups of birthing facilities—72 facilities in total—in Texas participating in this collaborative. 

"This work will have a huge impact on this community," says Amy Traylor, BSN, RN, Director of Newborn Nursery at The Women's Hospital at Renaissance. "The collaborative's learning sessions, mentoring and improvement methods are opening up a new world of support. It's also setting the stage for a culture change among mothers in this area, and providing a pathway to improve other health issues that have high rates here, such as obesity and diabetes."

Even a small increase in breastfeeding rates in the Rio Grande Valley can have a substantial impact on the long term overall health of the community, especially one where diabetes is widespread.

"Breastfeeding helps regulate sugars for the mother and baby, which can have an impact on our diabetes epidemic here," says Traylor. "More breastfeeding moms will have a huge bearing on the health of the community and reduce the financial burden that chronic disease has on the healthcare system." 

The hospital team is working to increase prenatal breastfeeding education, both in the hospital and by partnering with community organizations such as WIC. The objective, according to Traylor, is that consistent, evidence-based information will help eliminate many of the misconceptions about breastfeeding and help mothers continue exclusive breastfeeding after they are discharged from the hospital. The hope is educated mothers will set an example for other mothers, and the hospital will be a model for other hospitals.

"Now we have all the tools to make significant change," says Traylor. "The ability to collaborate with other hospitals that have already gone through this is critical to our success."

There has been a marked increase in the number of hospitals working to improve breastfeeding practices since the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) kicked off the Texas Ten Step Star Achiever Initiative and the Texas Breastfeeding Collaborative, according to DSHS State Breastfeeding Coordinator Julie Stagg, MSN, RN, IBCLC, RLC.

"Individuals working on the front lines of maternity care had the desire, but not always the tools or leverage to make substantial change," she says. "Now there are 72 multi-disciplinary hospital teams across the state who are working on this together. The teams come together through the collaborative to share their experiences and expertise, brain-storm innovative ways to handle challenges and break through barriers, and spread effective practices across the state." 

Self reported data from the Texas Breastfeeding Collaborative's first and second groups of hospital teams show improvement patterns across all the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding process and outcomes measures, including an increase in exclusive breastfeeding rates. Stagg says DSHS is continuing to track the collaborative’s successes and lessons learned are being incorporated into ongoing breastfeeding planning efforts.

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


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