Stand up for breastfeeding moms
As a physician who provides obstetrical and newborn care, I have some control over the messages that my new mothers hear while in the hospital. Fortunately, I also have the ability to write orders which limit formula use for medical reasons only. Nurses can call me, and as a lactation consultant I can also stage appropriate and baby-friendly interventions.
However, many dietitians, community-based healthcare staff, and breast-feeding advocates do not routinely provide in-hospital care. I can only imagine how difficult it is to know that your patients and clients, whom you have worked so hard to educate and prepare for motherhood, may be exposed to contradictory messages about breastfeeding at such a vulnerable time.
As breast-feeding advocates, we hear messages about the potential consequences of just a single bottle of formula, but we have little ability to stop that single feeding at the times when that influence is most needed. However, I do think that there are many important points to remember with regard to breast-feeding promotion in the outpatient setting.
First, in the age of social media, it is important to remember that our clients and patients often turn to the Internet for guidance. Therefore, I would strongly recommend that as breast-feeding advocates we identify hospitals, physicians, midwives, internet groups, and web sites which consistently provide (and demand) baby friendly neonatal care, and make those comments in those places where our patients will see them. For example, does a medical clinic or hospital have a Facebook page? Make comments EVERY TIME you hear of a patient who had a good breastfeeding experience. We can help our patients select providers and hospitals which align with their goals, and OUR goals. Get the word out where our clients are looking.
In addition, as outside-hospital providers, I encourage you to put pressure on in-hospital staff to provide the quality of care that we expect. Perhaps it may be a phone call to a physician or midwife, or the director of the birth center at a hospital, to inquire as to why a patient, or several patients, may have received formula. The specific answer may not be available, or may be limited by HIPPA compliance, but it does demonstrate a vested interest in the well-being of our most vulnerable. Perhaps it may be an annual visit to a local medical clinic to explain the outsides services available to physicians that YOU provide. Consider also giving physicians, midwives, nurses, and in-hospital staff the appreciation that they deserve in very public ways. Never underestimate the value of personal contact. Market breastfeeding. Be deliberate and methodical.
Finally, I would encourage outside providers to discuss with their clients and patients the consequences of registering on various pregnancy and baby related websites and on in-store gift registries. The formula industry, as we all know, aggressively markets to our audience. We need to prepare our mothers for an inundation of formula-related material and samples. We need to tell them that it is OKAY to throw those samples and coupons away. They do not need to maintain a supply “just in case.” We need them to know that formula companies are unfairly playing to their insecurities at a time when they are most vulnerable. We need them to know that WE believe they can nurse their babies, and that they WILL make enough milk. We need to restore their confidence in themselves.
Dr. Jody Cousins is a family medicine and obstetric care physician at Fidalgo Medical Associates in Anacortes, WA. She is a member of the Skagit Breastfeeding Coalition and the recipient of the 2015 Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington MaryAnn O’Hara, MD Physician Leadership Award.