September 4, 2008

Study: Area Hospitals Rate Poorly for Breast-Feeding

By Stephen Wall

San Bernardino County hospitals need to do a better job encouraging new mothers to breast-feed, according to a study released Wednesday.

Only 12 counties in the state had lower breast-feeding rates than San Bernardino County in 2007, according to the report by the UC Davis Human Lactation Center and the California WIC Association.

In county hospitals, 84 percent of mothers start breast-feeding when their babies are born, but only 38 percent are exclusively breast-feeding when they leave the hospital, the study says.

Statewide, nearly 87 percent of mothers breast-feed during their hospital stay, while less than half are exclusively breast-feeding when they get out of the hospital, according to the report.

Health experts urge exclusive breast-feeding, which means babies are fed only breast milk for the first six months of life. Breast- feeding can prevent a host of infant and maternal illnesses, as well as childhood obesity, experts say.

The report, based on new data from the California Department of Public Health, shows that the exclusive breast-feeding gap is largest in hospitals serving low-income mothers and babies. Blacks and Latinos also have the lowest exclusive breast-feeding rates of any ethnic or racial group, according to the study.

"It's always disappointing when it's low," said Glenda Randolph, breast-feeding coordinator for the San Bernardino County Women, Infants and Children program. "But we're encouraged because there are policies in place to bring up the numbers."

Randolph said local hospitals are providing more breast-feeding education and support programs to help pregnant women before, during and after they give birth.

Women are strongly discouraged from formula feeding, unless it's medically necessary or they are unable to breast-feed, she said.

One of the 15 lowest-scoring hospitals for exclusive breast- feeding in the state was Montclair Hospital Medical Center, which received a 5.2 percent mark.

"We're working to overcome what have been hurdles or stumbling blocks, not just to get the numbers up, but because we believe breast-feeding is the right thing to do," said Penny Mount, the hospital's director of maternity services.

Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton is also working to improve its exclusive breast-feeding numbers, which increased from 8.5 percent in 2006 to 18.9 percent last year, according to the study.

The hospital performed an internal audit for the first six months of 2007 that showed about 60 percent of mothers are exclusively breast-feeding when they leave the hospital, said Webster Wong, chairman of the pediatrics department at Arrowhead Regional.

"I'm happy with the progress that Arrowhead has made over the past nine months," Wong said. "We are on track to becoming a baby- friendly hospital."

Arrowhead Regional has implemented policies and procedures to encourage breast-feeding, including an annual breast-feeding carnival and a hospital-wide awareness program, Wong said.

St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino also has applied for designation as a baby-friendly hospital. Twenty-four nurses at the hospital are currently enrolled in a 40-hour class to become certified lactation counselors.

The hospital had a 16 percent exclusive breast-feeding rate, the study showed.

"We have made some good progress in the last year," said Cindy Bean, senior director of maternal child health. "We have made strides and will continue to make strides in this area."

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