CDPHP Collaborative News - Alaska health department and Fairbanks hospital give breastfeeding support to new mothers - December 2020

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December 2020

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Alaska health department and Fairbanks hospital give breastfeeding support to new mothers

Woman breastfeeding her new born in the hospital

A partnership between the Alaska health department and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital is supporting new mothers who want to start and continue breastfeeding their babies, which can benefit the health of mothers and infants.

This partnership to support breastfeeding began in 2019 between the Physical Activity and Nutrition program, within the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. When possible, breastfeeding and giving breast milk to babies is good for both mothers and infants. Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of short- and long-term illnesses and diseases in both mothers and babies. Research also suggests that breastfeeding may reduce a mother’s risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, with continued breastfeeding with complementary foods for one year or longer as mutually desired by the mother and baby.

Thousands of new mothers and babies receive care at Fairbanks hospital annually

Despite the many benefits of breastfeeding, some new mothers have more support than others starting and continuing breastfeeding. In 2019, Fairbanks Memorial Hospital recognized this difference among new mothers and took several approaches to support all mothers: improve education during the mothers’ pregnancy about breastfeeding and related health benefits, and then refer families to breastfeeding support services in the community after delivery. The hospital’s staff developed a video class delivered by breastfeeding educators, created a scholarship for breastfeeding classes and supplies, dedicated a breastfeeding space in the hospital, trained staff to support new mothers and babies, and developed a billing system for breastfeeding support.

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital serves a large geographic region that covers roughly the same area as Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska. The hospital serves two military bases and northern interior villages. It’s more than 350 miles from the nearest large medical center in Anchorage. Fairbanks Memorial Hospital reports the second largest number of annual births among hospitals statewide, with an annual average of nearly 1,800 births.

New mothers receive support right away in the hospital

Fairbanks Memorial Hospital staff are using several strategies to help new mothers start and continue breastfeeding. Staff who care for mothers and babies are watching training videos that feature health experts discussing concerns that may affect new mothers and their plans to breastfeed, including trauma and adverse childhood experiences (often called ACEs), as well as alcohol or drug use. The hospital’s staff is helping families who struggle to pay for breastfeeding support by providing scholarships for breastfeeding classes and supplies, including breast pumps. New mothers will find a space in the hospital to breastfeed privately and receive support by a trained lactation consultant. The lactation consultant was also trained as the Newborn Hearing Program Coordinator to offer another important service to new mothers and babies. In addition, the hospital updated its billing system to ensure consistent funding sources and sustainability for its lactation support for new mothers and babies.

These targeted strategies and improvements will help new mothers in the Fairbanks region start breastfeeding right after delivery. Mothers will receive continued help after the baby is born, for as long as needed. Over time, supporting more families who want to continue breastfeeding will improve health for mothers and babies, reduce the chances of short- and long-term illnesses and diseases for both, and provide a model that works for other communities to use.


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