Making the Business Case for Hospitals to Support Breastfeeding Moms

June 17, 2014
By Kristie Velarde

Rooming In
Mothers at Rockford Memorial Hospital (Rockford, Ill.) report feeling more supported by staff, due in part to its “rooming in” policy, where newborns stay in the mother’s room 24/7 instead of going to a nursery.
When a mother chooses breastfeeding for her baby’s first nutrition, she ensures the healthiest start for her child. And, healthcare providers are finding that supporting this decision holds unexpected benefits that go far beyond the child, including higher patient satisfaction scores, better reputation and long-term cost savings.

“It’s the right thing to do for babies and moms, but achieving Baby-Friendly status also sends a strong message to the community that we are committed to providing the best care and experience possible,” says Linnette Carter, RN-BC, MSN, APN/CNS, director of Women and Children’s Services at Rockford Memorial Hospital in Rockford, Illinois. “In a crowded market, that can be a differentiator.”

Rockford Memorial is one of 89 hospitals participating in Best Fed Beginnings, a national effort led by NICHQ (the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality) to increase the number of US hospitals implementing a proven model for maternity services that better supports a new mother’s choice to breastfeed. This 22-month learning collaborative, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), helps participants achieve “Baby-Friendly” designation by implementing the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

For Rockford Memorial, the process has created a stronger focus on family-centered care. For example, the hospital’s work on Step 7, or “rooming in,” ensures healthy newborns stay in their mother’s room around the clock, instead of going to a nursery. As a result, moms report feeling more supported by staff, increasing their confidence for their return home as new mothers. Rockford Memorial also routinely practices skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby immediately after birth.

The family-centered care approach has already impacted perinatal patient satisfaction scores for Rockford Memorial. Carter says that the hospital has scored above the 90th percentile for six of eight domains (communication with nurses, responsiveness, clean/quiet, pain management, communication with provider and discharge information) since beginning the process.

“We are already known for being the only hospital in our city that consistently offers the skin-to-skin experience for our mothers who deliver by cesarean section,” Carter says. “Women who have a choice choose us because we offer these types of experiences. It’s a boost to our reputation.”

Enhanced reputation is a theme that other institutions on the Baby-Friendly designation path have echoed. In a 2009 survey from the University of Texas Health Sciences Center, nearly 70 percent of leaders interviewed from 82 Baby-Friendly sites reported increased brand awareness and community interest through the path to designation, mainly as a result of local press coverage. Nearly 80 percent of respondents also attributed better patient outcomes to the Baby-Friendly process.

Healthy babies lead to cost savings

Many studies point to the short- and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding and the resulting long-term healthcare cost savings. A study in the journal Pediatrics found that if 90 percent of all women breastfed exclusively for six months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent more than 900 infant deaths. However, the CDC reports that only 16 percent of American children are exclusively breastfed for six months, and just 47 percent of children receive any breastfeeding during that same period.

“From a health perspective, the evidence clearly defines breastfeeding as the best option,” says Lisa Dugan, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer at Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg, Virginia, another participant in Best Fed Beginnings. “The investment in Baby-Friendly certification is an investment at the start of a newborn’s life that will ultimately contribute to the health of the child, thereby reducing healthcare costs over the life span.”

At Inova Loudoun Hospital, 86 percent of mothers are now breastfeeding exclusively at the time of discharge.

“To be a part of a national initiative like Best Fed Beginnings demonstrates that the organization is committed to providing the best care possible for mothers and babies,” Dugan says. “It also positions our hospital as the best place for moms to deliver because they know that their baby will have the best start to life.”