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‘Baby-friendly’ steps help women meet prenatal breastfeeding goals



A first-ever study of the effect of evidence-based maternity care practices on prenatal breastfeeding intentions in women from low-income U.S. households shows that the use of “baby-friendly steps” during birth hospitalization made it possible for almost half to breastfeed exclusively for 1 month.

Analyses of national data from a longitudinal study of 1,080 women enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) revealed that 47% were able to meet their prenatal intention to breastfeed without formula or other milk for at least 30 days.

The odds of meeting prenatal breastfeeding intentions more than quadrupled when babies received only breast milk (risk ratio, 4.4; 95% confidence interval, 3.4-5.7), the study showed. Breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth was also associated with greater likelihood of breastfeeding success (RR, 1.3; 95% CI, 1.0-1.6).

The study, led by Heather C. Hamner, PhD, MS, MPH, of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, , Atlanta, was reported online in Pediatrics.

“This study confirms the relationship between experiencing maternity care practices supportive of breastfeeding and meeting one’s breastfeeding intentions, and adds evidence specifically among low-income women, who are known to be at higher risk of not breastfeeding,” the study authors wrote.

Women from low-income households often face additional barriers to meeting their breastfeeding goals, including lack of access to professional lactation services, Dr. Hamner said in an interview. “We want physicians to know how important maternity care practices supportive of breastfeeding are to helping all women achieve their breastfeeding goals. Physicians can be champions for implementation of evidence-based maternity care practices in the hospitals and practices in which they work.”

Dr. Hamner emphasized that physicians need to discuss the importance of breastfeeding with patients and their families, brief them on what to expect in the maternity care setting, and ensure women are connected to lactation resources. The American Academy of Pediatrics is working to increase physician capacity to support breastfeeding through the Physician Engagement and Training Focused on Breastfeeding project.

For the study, Dr. Hamner and colleagues analyzed data from the longitudinal WIC Infant and Toddler Feeding Practices Study-2 (ITFPS-2), which assessed the impact of 6 steps from a 10-step maternity care protocol known as The Ten Steps To Successful Breastfeeding. These steps are part of the worldwide Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), which has been shown to improve rates of breastfeeding initiation, duration, and exclusivity.

After adjusting for sociodemographic and other factors, the study authors estimated risk ratios for associations between each of six maternity care practices assessed in ITFPS-2 and the success of women who reported an intention to breastfeed exclusively for 1 month. The six steps included initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth (step 4), showing moms how to breastfeed and maintain lactation (step 5), giving no food or drink other than breast milk unless medically indicated (step 6), rooming-in (step 7), breastfeeding on demand (step 8), and giving no pacifiers (step 9).

The analyses showed that only steps 4 and 6 – initiating breastfeeding at birth and giving only breast milk – remained significantly associated with meeting breastfeeding intentions. The results also revealed a dose-response relationship between the number of baby steps experienced during birth hospitalization and the likelihood of meeting breastfeeding goals, a finding in keeping with previous studies. In women who experienced all six steps, for example, 76% were breastfeeding exclusively at 1 month, compared with 16% of those who experienced zero to two steps.

Although the dose-response relationship did not appear to differ significantly by race or ethnicity, it was driven primarily by a hospital policy of providing infant formula or other supplementation, the study authors found. Notably, 44% of women reported that their infant had been fed something other than breast milk while in the hospital, and about 60% said they stopped breastfeeding earlier than intended.

“This finding reiterates the importance of limiting in-hospital formula or other supplementation of breastfed infants to only those with medical necessity,” Dr. Hamner and colleagues said.

Despite improvements in maternity care practices that promote breastfeeding, including an increase in the number of births occurring in U.S. hospitals with a baby-friendly designation, many women continue to experience significant barriers to breastfeeding, the investigators pointed out. Currently, there are 592 baby-friendly hospitals in the United States, representing 28.29% of annual births.

“I think more hospitals becoming baby friendly would really help,” Mary Franklin, DNP, CNM, assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, said in an interview. More needs to be done to support women during birth hospitalization and after they return home, so they can continue to breastfeed for “longer than the initial 6 weeks,” added Dr. Franklin, who is also director of the nurse midwifery and women’s health NP program.

The AAP recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months followed by complementary food introduction and continued breastfeeding through 12 months or beyond.

Like Dr. Hamner, Dr. Franklin emphasized that physicians have an important role to play in the initiation, duration, and exclusivity of breastfeeding. This includes promoting enrichment of the pregnancy experience with prenatal education and increased support from health care providers and peers. At delivery, obstetricians can delay cord clamping to facilitate early breastfeeding. They can also support the elimination of the central nursery in hospitals so that mother and baby stay together from birth. In addition, prescriptions can be written for breast pumps, which are covered by Medicaid.

The study received no outside funding. Dr. Hamner and coauthors disclosed having no potential financial conflicts of interest. Dr. Franklin also disclosed having no financial conflicts of interest.

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