I love it when a plan comes together. Last year in this space, I told you about Inova Alexandria Hospital’s initiative to promote the best possible beginning for newborns and their mothers by encouraging exclusive breastfeeding. When we kicked off our “Best-Fed Beginning” initiative in 2012, less than 24 percent of our mothers chose to breastfeed their newborns during their hospital stay. Today, I’m happy to report, on average, nearly 90 percent of our postpartum mothers are now choosing to exclusively breastfeed their newborns — that’s more than a three-fold increase in two years.
This is such great news for the health of mothers and babies in our community. The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented in the medical literature and in scientific studies announced almost weekly in the news. Evidence proves that breastfeeding helps prevent chronic illness for both mother and baby, is linked to decreased rates of infant mortality, childhood obesity and allergies, as well as reduced rates of postpartum depression and certain cancers for women. It’s no wonder breast milk is often called “liquid gold.” Its health benefits are priceless.
No doubt, the science behind breastfeeding speaks for itself. Still, at Inova Alexandria Hospital, we recognize the choice to breastfeed or formula feed is a personal one. And, in fact, there are occasions where formula is medically necessary for the health of the baby. Rest assured, just as we support our mothers who choose to breastfeed, we also support our mothers who choose to formula feed. We always have, and we always will.
Our participation in the Best-Fed Beginnings initiative is a critical component in Inova Alexandria Hospital’s journey to become designated a “Baby-Friendly Hospital.” Launched by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1991, the globally recognized Baby-Friendly designation recognizes hospitals and birthing centers that “offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding.” The initiative focuses on breastfeeding, but its principles apply also to formula feeding.
So what does Baby-Friendly look like at Inova Alexandria Hospital? We educate every expectant mother upon arrival about the initiative and the benefits of choosing breastfeeding over formula feeding, we don’t supply pacifiers because they may disrupt a baby’s natural inclination to breastfeed, we promote mother and baby skin-to-skin contact within five minutes of birth and we keep healthy babies in their mothers’ rooms 24-hours-a-day in support of breastfeeding — or formula feeding — on demand.
For those choosing to breastfeed, we offer round-the-clock support to help mothers and babies bond in breastfeeding. Our lactation consultants provide free one-on-one and daily group consultations for postpartum moms during their hospital stay, and support groups for moms after their hospital stay. And our nursing staff supports all mothers, no matter their choice, to recognize their baby’s hunger cues and feed on demand.
Also, in support of mother/baby bonding, we recently completed renovations to our four-story existing tower to create a dedicated Women’s Center. It offers 35 beautiful, private postpartum rooms to promote “rooming-in” for breastfeeding — or formula feeding — on baby’s schedule.
If you’re expecting, I encourage you to schedule a tour of Inova Alexandria Hospital’s Women’s Center and talk with our staff about our Baby-Friendly initiative. You can learn more at inova.org, search “maternity services” and select “Inova Alexandria Hospital.”