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Commentary: Promoting Best Possible Beginning for Babies and Moms

— If you could make a choice that would greatly improve the health of your family, would you do it? We did. Last year, Inova Alexandria Hospital charted a new course to improve the health of newborns and their mothers in our community family by encouraging more mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies. With its proven health benefits of preventing chronic illness in both mothers and babies, breastfeeding is the best possible beginning.

Now truth be told, we’ve always supported mothers who choose breastfeeding over formula feeding. And, we’ve always supported mothers who choose formula feeding over breastfeeding — and will continue to do so. What’s changed in the last year, however, is our commitment to promoting the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding.

What does that look like? Under the guidance of the national “Best Fed Beginnings” initiative, we developed new maternity policies and implemented evidence-based care processes to comply with established “Baby-Friendly” hospital standards. Now we talk to every mother about the benefits of breastfeeding, we don’t offer pacifiers as standard practice, we promote mother and baby skin-to-skin contact within five minutes of birth, and we encourage keeping healthy babies in their mothers’ rooms 24-hours-a-day in support of breastfeeding on-demand.

This is in addition to the services we’ve always provided through our in-house lactation service. Our lactation consultants provide free one-on-one and daily group consultations for our postpartum moms during their hospital stay. They also run a weekly breastfeeding support group for moms after their stay and are available for hire for private consultations. The service includes breast pump rentals and a clothing boutique with nursing bras and shirts for sale.

Recent changes at the hospital also support our breastfeeding culture shift. Renovations to our existing four-story building resulted in our new “Women’s Tower” designed to provide a comfortable, healing environment for women undergoing breast and gynecological surgeries or the birth of a child. It includes all private postpartum rooms with new furnishings and décor designed to give mothers the best birthing experience possible while promoting “rooming-in” with their babies.

We’re also reaching out beyond our doors to promote this important cause. Working with our physician partners, we developed educational materials to inform their prenatal patients about the benefits of breastfeeding and how our hospital can help. And through our partnership with the Alexandria Childhood Obesity Action Network, we’re educating expectant moms in the city’s health clinics, too.

We’re proud of the work we’re doing and pleased to know we’re making a difference. When we started this initiative in spring 2012, less than 24-percent of our postpartum mothers chose to breastfeed their newborns during their hospital stay. Today, more than 55-percent are choosing to breastfeed! We want to make sure all of our babies and mothers get the best beginning and will continue to promote breastfeeding for a healthy start.

Read more about Inova’s breastfeeding and maternity services at www.inova.org/childbirth.