June 21, 2012

NICHQ Launches Unprecedented National Effort to Increase Breastfeeding Rates in US Hospitals

90 Hospitals Will Transform Maternity Care Services in States with Low Breastfeeding Rates

Although breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive health measures for infants and mothers, half of US-born babies are given formula within the first week, and by 9 months, only 31% of babies are breastfeeding at all. Breastfeeding rates are lowest among low socio-economic populations. To help reverse these trends, the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ) today announced a first-of-its-kind effort to significantly improve breastfeeding rates in states where rates are currently the lowest. 90 hospitals have been selected to participate in Best Fed Beginnings, a national initiative to increase the number of US hospitals implementing a proven model for maternity services that better supports a new mother’s choice to breastfeed. Through a cooperative funding agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NICHQ is leading the effort and working closely with Baby-Friendly USA, Inc.

The 90 hospitals, which were selected from 235 applicants, are responsible for more than 275,000 births each year in the 29 states with the lowest breastfeeding rates and highest rates of supplementation during the hospital stay. These hospitals will work together in a 22 month learning collaborative, using proven quality improvement methods to transform their maternity care services in pursuit of “Baby-Friendly” designation. This designation verifies that a hospital has comprehensively implemented the American Academy of Pediatrics-endorsed Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, as established in the WHO/UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Breastfeeding rates are higher and disparities in these rates are virtually eliminated in hospitals that achieve this status. Since there are currently only 143 hospitals and birth centers in the US designated as “Baby-Friendly,” accounting for approximately 240,000 of our country’s births each year, Best Fed Beginnings will more than double the number of babies born in US hospitals that fully support breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has multiple health benefits for both infants and mothers. For infants, it decreases the incidence and severity of many infectious diseases, reduces infant mortality, and optimally supports neurodevelopment. It also decreases infants’ risk of becoming obese later in childhood. For mothers, breastfeeding decreases the risks of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

“We look forward to working with the selected hospitals and congratulate them on their successful applications,” said Charlie Homer, MD, MPH, president and CEO of NICHQ. “The large number of applications we received affirms the commitment of hospitals across our country to be part of a health care system that truly focuses on promoting health for women and infants. We are especially pleased that we received so many applications from hospitals in states where there are so few facilities with Baby-Friendly designation and from hospitals that serve populations of women who now are much less likely to breastfeed. By helping these hospitals achieve Baby Friendly designation, we can help more women succeed in their chosen approach to feeding their infant.”

“We know that Baby-Friendly hospitals provide the best care to help mothers and babies succeed at breastfeeding, yet less than 6 percent of babies in this country are born in these facilities,” said Laurence Grummer-Strawn, PhD, MPA, MA, Nutrition Branch Chief of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. “We need to help hospitals improve their maternity care to better support breastfeeding. This project takes steps to do that, and it offers real solutions to improve the health of mothers and babies.”

“Numerous studies point to the vital role that hospitals and birth centers play in creating the best environment to successfully establish breastfeeding,” said Trish MacEnroe, executive director of Baby-Friendly USA. “The hospitals selected to participate in Best Fed Beginnings are now on the leading edge of maternity care in the US, and will serve as models for change for other hospitals throughout the country.”