October 01, 2012

NICHQ Launches Quality Improvement Project to Increase Breastfeeding Rates in Texas

NICHQ continues its work to support breastfeeding with the announcement of a new partnership with the state of Texas. A five-year quality improvement project will guide 81 hospitals in creating environments that support the initiation of exclusive breastfeeding at birth and continued breastfeeding for up to six months.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life can help protect infants from a host of infectious diseases and reduce infant mortality. Exclusive breastfeeding can also boost babies’ immune system and create other lifelong effects, like reducing risks of obesity and diabetes. (Read more about the science of breastfeeding in a Q&A with a NICHQ faculty advisor). Despite the many benefits of breastfeeding, only about 16% of US mothers breastfeed exclusively for 6 months. In Texas, the rate is 13.7%.

“We are excited to partner with the state of Texas on their comprehensive efforts to improve exclusive breastfeeding,” says Elaine Fitzgerald, DrPH, an associate project director at NICHQ who is heading up the effort for NICHQ. “We are especially pleased that the program aims to help labor and delivery facilities address the significant racial and ethnic gaps that exist in Texas breastfeeding rates.”

NICHQ will work with the Texas Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to run a team-focused quality improvement project called a learning collaborative. This collaborative will help Texas hospitals improve exclusive breastfeeding rates inside and outside the clinic through the Texas Ten Step Star Achiever Program. The program is part of a larger state effort to help hospitals move toward “Baby Friendly” status, a designation given to hospitals that adhere to ten steps of promoting breastfeeding. These steps, as outlined by the World Health Organization WHO/UNICEF Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, include training staff on how to promote and support breastfeeding and eliminate the use of formula unless medically indicated.

“The Texas WIC program is very excited to work with NICHQ on this very important public health issue,” says Mike Montgomery, Texas WIC Program Director. “With NICHQ's years of expertise in both quality improvement and breastfeeding initiatives, we are confident this partnership can help us better support mothers in their choice to breastfeed.”

In the collaborative, hospitals will learn how to conduct small tests of change, collect data on progress and ultimately make beneficial, sustainable improvements that support breastfeeding. NICHQ will also bring the teams together virtually and physically to share lessons, promote collaboration and learn from improvement and breastfeeding experts.

While hospital practices can assist with exclusive breastfeeding, community support is also important for nursing mothers and families. In line with WHO recommendations, the Star Achiever Program aims to enhance the support available to nursing mothers transitioning from the hospital back to their homes.

“Texas has the second largest population of children in the entire country, so the impact of this effort has the potential to improve not only the health and well-being of infants and women for the state, but also have a tremendous impact on our nation’s breastfeeding rates,” says Fitzgerald.

NICHQ, working closely with the CDC and Baby-Friendly USA, is also conducting a nationwide quality improvement project called Best Fed Beginnings to help 90 hospitals improve maternity practice in support of a mother’s choice to breastfeed.