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Moving Upstream. . . One Training at a Time

544 providers. More specifically: 296 nurses, 147 doctors, 24 dieticians, 19 nurse practitioners, 4 midwives, (and a partridge in a pear tree!) What do all these people have in common?

They all provide care for Washington families and they’ve all recently gone through a breastfeeding education training organized by WithinReach.

Recent studies show that provider lactation education has a statistically significant increase on breastfeeding outcomes. In other words, the more that doctors, nurses and other support staff learn about and support breastfeeding, the more likely the women in their care will meet their own breastfeeding goals, and we know that longer breastfeeding leads to better maternal child health.

Health care providers play a critical role in supporting breastfeeding women. The recently published CDC Guide to Breastfeeding Interventions affirms that “health care professionals need in-depth knowledge and skills directly related to breastfeeding and lactation management because 86% of Americans still turn to a health professional as their primary source of health information”.  Lack of adequate support is the main reason we hear about for why women discontinue breastfeeding. Here at WithinReach, we’re working to change this. One training at a time, we’re working to ensure that Washington State health care providers are equipped with the knowledge and skills to support moms and babies with breastfeeding.

In the field of public health, we often talk about ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ approaches to improving community health, preventing disease and eliminating disparities. Watch this quick video for a brief overview. To sum it up: “Investing upstream in prevention, rather than downstream in intervention, is often wiser and more effective, and is the essence of public health.”  Many challenges with breastfeeding could be prevented before they turn into substantial concerns. Ensuring moms are appropriately supported, from prenatal breastfeeding education to support at the hospital bedside and beyond, is a key way to do this. For another analogy about the impact of public health prevention strategies and the social determinants of health, see the fabulous Dr. Camara Jones’ well known talk about the Cliff of Good Health.

While we could choose to focus our efforts to promote breastfeeding on direct support for mothers and babies, that work is really best done by IBCLCs (Lactation Consultants), peer counselors, community programs and other perinatal support professionals. This is indeed a critical element of a broader community that supports breastfeeding. WithinReach and the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington’s work is primarily focused on providing tools and information directly to health care providers. Moving further upstream and taking a public health approach allows us, with a relatively small amount of resources, to facilitate training for the providers that care for mothers and families and to impact organizational policies and practices. With this approach, we are able to reach tens of thousands of breastfeeding moms and babies. By working with nineteen hospitals around the state through our Evidence-Based Hospital Breastfeeding Support (EBBS) Learning Collaborative, in 2013 we have positively impacted the care received by over 40% of babies born in Washington.

With support from the Washington State Department of Health, Public Health- Seattle & King County and SeaMar Community Health Centers, and a partnership with Molly Pessl, BSN, IBCLC (owner and lactation education trainer) from Evergreen Perinatal Education, WithinReach has coordinated five trainings over the past several months that have reached well over 500 health care providers. We’re helping support breastfeeding throughout the state, one training at a time. Thank you for supporting us in this work!

Tags: Breastfeeding   Breastfeeding support   health care providers   

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