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So much has changed since the first World Breastfeeding Week in 1991. What we have learned about the importance of human milk and breastfeeding is beyond what was anticipated 30 years ago. The American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledges the positive impact of breastfeeding and recommends infants be breastfed exclusively for the first six months with continued breastfeeding for one year or longer.
Many years ago when I was expecting my first child, I remember my baby’s pediatrician asking me if I planned to breast or bottle feed, leaving me with the impression that they were equal choices. But, it was my OB who already validated my decision to breastfeed. My OB asked me, “Do I need to give you my talk about how important breastfeeding is for you and your baby?” I told him, “No, I’ve already decided to breast feed.” That conversation many years ago certainly made me feel good about the choice I made.
Human breast milk is a natural, life-saving gift and it is beneficial to both nursing mothers and their newborns. Unlike formula, breast milk contains powerful antibodies that can help protect you and your newborn against certain infections and diseases while strengthening the bond with your baby. These benefits are especially important during this unprecedented COVID pandemic. Recent studies have shown that lactating mothers who have received a mRNA COVID-19 vaccine or have had a previous COVID infection, have antibodies in their breast milk. Providing these antibodies through breastfeeding helps the newborn baby build immunity from the COVID virus.
August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and educating new mothers about the importance of breastfeeding happens every day at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women. It has been my great honor to lead an extraordinary group of nurses and technicians who staff our Lactation/Milk Bank services in their efforts to help new mothers achieve their breastfeeding goals. Through the implementation of programs and initiatives to ensure our patients receive the best breastfeeding information, education and support, we are improving the health of mothers and babies. In addition, we have evidence-based breastfeeding practices in place to ensure our nurses, obstetricians and pediatricians are well trained to teach moms how to breastfeed and maintain lactation.
In 2016, Texas Children’s received the Baby Friendly Hospital designation that recognizes maternity hospitals for providing excellent evidence-based care to breastfeeding mothers and their newborns and for adhering to the Ten Steps for Successful Breastfeeding. A tremendous amount of work by all the staff in the Pavilion for Women went into this initiative and the results have been outstanding. Our rates for infants whose mothers breastfed have increased from an average of 89 percent in 2013 to 91 percent in 2021 to date. For infants whose mothers exclusively breastfed, the numbers are even more striking, from 48 percent in 2013 to 57 percent in 2021.
We are working to be re-designated as a Baby Friendly Hospital because it complements our commitment to delivering high-quality care to improve long-term outcomes for our neonatal patients. Mothers are shown how to initiate and maintain lactation even when separated from their infants, which can occur when premature babies are confined to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for long-term care. Often times, new mothers do not succeed in breastfeeding because there are no systems in place to support them. At the Pavilion for Women, we have many services to support nursing moms including:
- Texas Children’s Milk Bank: Breastmilk is medicine for many of the tiniest and most fragile patients in the NICU, and the Texas Children’s Milk Bank allows NICU moms a safe place to store their milk without having to worry about transferring it offsite. The milk bank also functions like a “mini pharmacy” for breast milk, as extra nutrients can be added to help provide preemies the fuel they need to grow, thrive and graduate.
- Women helping women - free, virtual breastfeeding support group: Breastfeeding is a tough journey for many, but our free, virtual breastfeeding support group, facilitated by one of our lactation consultants, provides a great resource for new mothers to share their tips and tricks in the early weeks and months after birth. BreastFeeding Friends (BFF) is a great resource for anyone, no matter where they delivered, to share their experiences with others.
- Baby Bistro lactation services: Located inside the Bella Luna Boutique on the third floor of the Pavilion for Women, the Baby Bistro offers lactation support services to nursing mothers, in-person or virtually. You can call 832-826-8881 to schedule an appointment with a board-certified lactation consultant.
I am so proud of our team. Texas Children’s commitment to providing lactation support for our patients is one of the many reasons why the Pavilion for Women is a Baby Friendly Hospital. Click here for more information on breastfeeding and lactation support services at the Pavilion for Women, including how to donate excess breast milk to support critically ill babies in the Newborn Center.