A new update on California's breastfeeding rates and hospital policies was released by the California WIC Association and the UC Davis Human Lactation Center. The report, titled "One Hospital at a Time: Overcoming Barriers to Breastfeeding" takes a look at how instituting baby-friendly practices at hospitals through California has impacted the breastfeeding rates.
California is currently home to 34 of the 150 hospitals and birth centers that have been certified as Baby Friendly by UNICEF/WHO. The report paints a very clear picture of how beneficial the Baby Friendly initiative has been to California's breastfeeding rates. Not surprisingly, the hospitals with the lowest breastfeeding rates are those that serve low income women of color and throughout the state, disparities are evident. The report states that in the past, these disparities were chalked up to differences in cultural practices, but the data clearly shows that hospitals that have baby-friendly policies in place were able to greatly reduce those disparities.
The report shows that the breastfeeding initiation rate throughout California for African-American women was at about 78% while the exclusive breastfeeding rate was around 40%. When you look at the exclusive breastfeeding rate for African-American women at the Baby Friendly hospitals, that number jumps from 40% to 60%. And although those numbers are still too low, they are far and away better than the national initiation rate of 54%.
We can also see the benefit of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative to African-American women in another state, New York. In New York City, all public hospitals are managed by Health and Hospital Corp., or HHC. HHC has encouraged its hospitals to incorporate all of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, but only one, Harlem Hospital, has been certified as Baby Friendly.
Harlem Hospital serves a large population of African-American and African immigrant women. Any hospital that thinks becoming certified would be too difficult or wouldn't work with their population, need only look at Harlem Hospital as proof that it can be done anywhere. In 2007, right before officially becoming Baby-Friendly, 81% of women were breastfeeding when they left Harlem Hospital.
In a recent article in Heart & Soul magazine, a black woman who gave birth at Harlem Hospital talked about her experience. Alicia Lewis-Howard was told by family and friends that breastfeeding would hurt and she didn't think she would nurse for more than a month, but ended up breastfeeding for 6. She credits the nurses at the hospital with showing her how to properly latch the baby on so breastfeeding was not painful and for educating her on the many benefits of breastfeeding both to herself and her baby.
The Baby Friendly Initiative has been proven to increase black breastfeeding initiation and exclusivity rates. It is imperative that healthcare facilities that serve a large population of African-American women begin implementing as many of the Ten Steps as possible. Although the process of becoming Baby Friendly is extremely rigorous, there is no reason that hospitals can't make the smaller changes, like ensuring that all women are breastfeeding within an hour of birth and rooming in with their babies. If we want to see black breastfeeding rates improve, we have to see hospital practices improve. If California and New York can do it, why can't everyone else?
*Photo credit edenpictures
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