Communications: Patient Education

Patient Education: Expectant Moms Encouraged to Seek Out Hospitals with Lactation Support Services

Thursday, February 23, 2006  
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Minnesota family physicians would like to see more mothers taking advantage of breastfeeding support services and more hospitals looking for ways to add to or maintain the services they offer.

"Breastfeeding is a learned skill that requires individual support and encouragement,” said Amy Bonifas, M.D., a Brooklyn Center family physician and acting director of the West Metro Chapter of the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians. "Many of the problems women encounter when breastfeeding can be fixed if they are taught proper technique and have access to a trained lactation consultant.”

Lactation consultants who carry the credentials, IBCLC, behind their names are specially trained and qualified to assist with every aspect of breastfeeding. They teach the baby and mother how to latch on to the breast, a variety of positions for feeding and are able to answer questions about feeding frequency and duration. They help prevent and manage difficulties with engorgement, sore nipples and sucking.

"They also help mothers whose babies have special needs due to slow weight gain, jaundice, premature birth and multiple births,” Dr. Bonifas said.

Data showing the health benefits of breastfeeding to the child, the mother and the community are overwhelming. In fact, in the last decade, many of the professional health organizations in the United States have publicly recognized the importance of breastfeeding by adopting breastfeeding policy, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Medical Association.

In the Health and Human Services Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding, breast milk is defined as the most complete form of nutrition for babies. Besides enhancing an infant’s immune system and providing numerous growth and developmental benefits, breastfed infants experience fewer cases of infectious and noninfectious diseases as well as less severe cases of diarrhea, respiratory infections and ear infections. Mothers who breastfeed experience less postpartum bleeding, earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight and a reduced risk of ovarian cancer and premenopausal breast cancer. In addition, there are benefits to families and society. Breastfeeding costs less than buying formula. Plus, babies who are breastfed typically require fewer sick care visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations. In turn, working mothers who continue breastfeeding usually miss less work due to child illness.

"Unfortunately, many new moms don’t ask or can’t find the help they need when they need it so they don’t try or try and then give up,” Dr. Bonifas said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2010 plan set objectives for breastfeeding. The goal is to have 75–percent of mothers breastfeeding right after birth, 50-percent at 6 months and 25-percent at one year. The goals are currently unmet. A 2005 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that only about half of all mothers who begin to breastfeed continue to do so for longer than four weeks. The report concludes that the ‘quit rate’ could be lowered if proper training is provided to all new moms.

"Family physicians help the cause by encouraging the patients who see us for obstetrical care to breastfeed their babies. But the additional support in the form of trained lactation specialists needs to be there as well.” Boinfas said. "It’s an invaluable resource for those tricky breastfeeding problems.”

Within the last year, the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians (MAFP) and the Minnesota Medical Association (MMA) have both passed resolutions stating that all Minnesota hospitals providing maternity care should also provide lactation support services for a duration of at least six months post-partum by lactation consultants. Both organizations have also gone on record to support the reimbursement of such services by insurance companies.

A recent check of Minnesota hospital websites, found that only 37 of the 124 checked specifically highlight the fact that they have trained lactation consultants on staff when describing their maternity care services. Dr. Bonifas says she’d like that to change. "Having quality lactation support should be a selling point for a hospital. This service should be encouraged and promoted to expectant moms from day one. It shouldn’t be an afterthought for the caregiver or the patient.”

The Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians is a professional association of approximately 3,000 family physicians, family medicine residents and medical students organized to assist family physicians in providing quality medical care in Minnesota. The MAFP is the largest medical specialty organization in Minnesota and is a state chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians, one of the largest national medical organizations in the United States with more than 103,000 members.

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