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Wesley Medical Center Seeks 'Baby-Friendly' Designation

In Kansas, no other hospital has done more to help and encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies than Wesley Medical Center in Wichita.

It’s the only hospital in the state that’s in the final phase of a four-phase process for being designated a Baby-Friendly Facility by the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, a project of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

RELATED: Advocates, Hospitals Unite To Raise Kansas Breastfeeding Rate

“We’ve been working on this (designation) for about the past two and a half years, but we’ve been moving in this general direction for quite some time,” says Kathy Walker, a nurse and lactation services manager who’s overseeing the effort.

“Our goal at the moment is to have our Baby-Friendly site visit scheduled by sometime in September,” she says. “I suspect the actual visit will be sometime in December or January.”

To be designated a Baby-Friendly Facility, a hospital must enact and enforce 10 policies designed to increase breastfeeding initiation and duration.

Since the late 1990s, 189 U.S. hospitals have earned the Baby-Friendly Facility designation. None are in Kansas. Missouri and Oklahoma each have one, Nebraska has two and Colorado has three. California leads the nation with 60.

In Kansas, 42 of the 71 hospitals with maternity units are participating in a similar program, called High 5 for Mom and Baby, a foundation-funded project that encourages them to amend their care policies to include five principles known to increase breastfeeding rates.

The Baby-Friendly designation requires greater investment of staff training and other resources from the hospital.

“Baby-Friendly is the gold standard,” says Virginia Elliott, vice president in charge of programs at the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and a key supporter of the High 5 initiative.

“Other than Wesley, we don’t have any hospitals (in Kansas) pursing the Baby-Friendly designation because there are so many requirements, it’s a long process, it can be difficult and there’s expense,” Elliott says. “We like to think that with High 5, a hospital can get to a similar place without having to meet as many requirements.”

The best practices spelled out in the High 5 initiative are part of the Baby-Friendly initiative as well, although the programs are separate.

Kansas breastfeeding rates are below the national average, according to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report card.

“A lot of times, quality initiatives like this tend to hone in on one thing. But with Baby-Friendly it’s 10 things, and they all have subsections that you have to follow,” Walker says. “It’s a daunting task; it’s all very detailed.”

Most of the efforts at Wesley Medical Center, she says, have focused on identifying the long-held practices that fall outside the 10 policies and taking the time to work through the changes.

For example, Walker says, mothers are encouraged to maintain skin-to-skin contact with their babies after they’re born, babies are kept in their mothers’ rooms rather than being taken to a nursery and the hospital no longer accepts free samples from formula manufacturers.

“Whenever you start something like this, you wonder how it’s going to go over with your patients,” she says. “But what we’ve found is that once they understand why you’re doing this — and once their families understand why you’re doing it — they’re all very accepting.

“Everybody wants what’s best for the baby,” Walker says, “and research has shown that all of these practices help women meet their breastfeeding goals and lead to babies being breastfed for longer periods of time. It’s a huge benefit for babies and moms both, and for society too.”

Walker says the hospital is leaning toward adopting afternoon “quiet times” at the maternity unit so that mothers and babies are able to adjust to each other’s schedules rather than visitor schedules.

“We haven’t done it yet because we’re in the middle of a construction project, which makes it kind of hard to have ‘quiet time,’” she says. “But when we do, it won’t just be for families. It’ll be dietary, nurses, the ‘picture people,’ the audiologist who test the baby’s hearing … the lab people who come in to draw blood.”

Wesley Medical Center’s maternity unit is the busiest in Kansas, with an average of 16 births a day, accounting for approximately 15 percent of the state’s births.

Dave Ranney is senior writer/editor with KHI News Service, an editorially independent reporting program of the Kansas Health Institute.

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