Six months after instituting its NorthShore Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Community Program, Evanston Hospital did an evaluation of the program that shows it is already having a positive effect.
In 2016, Evanston Hospital instituted its NorthShore Breastfeeding Peer Counselor Community Program to provide increased breastfeeding support for patients at its community health clinic which serves a Medicaid-eligible patient population from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
The goal of the program is to improve prenatal breastfeeding education, postpartum support and communication around breastfeeding challenges.
When the hospital conducted its six-month follow-up assessment, it found that:
• Before the program started, only 5 perent of patients reported prenatal breastfeeding counseling. In the first six months of the program, 83 percent of patients had seen a peer counselor during pregnancy and 73 percent had received counseling and support after delivery.
• Peer counselors supported more than 260 patients between July 2016 and April 2017.
• Patients who saw a peer counselor prenatally were significantly more likely to breastfeed. While 56 percent of patients initiated breastfeeding before the peer counselor, 87 percent of those who received counseling support breastfed their babies after delivery.
At the clinic, every mother -- despite income or background -- receives full support, including consultations with a peer counselor, regular check-ins and educational materials.
Peer counselors are bilingual in both English and Spanish, as are the provided educational materials, and interpretation services allow peer counselors to communicate with patients who speak a wide variety of languages including Mandarin and Arabic.
Each month, the hospital also hosts a free one-hour breastfeeding education class with complimentary lunch and childcare for pregnant women, their partners and family members.
The clinic has received overwhelmingly positive patient response, hospital officials report.
"If it wasn't for the first visit after delivery with all the hands-on coaching and help I would have given up. It's a nice service to have when a mom's heart really wants to breastfeed," one patient said about the program.
Some of the medically recognized benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and baby include the following:
• Breast milk provides ideal nutrition for infants -- nearly the perfect mix of vitamins, protein and fat -- everything baby needs to grow.
• Breastmilk contains antibodies that help baby fight off viruses and bacteria.
• Breastfeeding lowers mother's risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
• Breastfeeding lowers baby's risk of asthma, allergies, diabetes, obesity and some cancers.
• Breastfeeding results in fewer hospital visits and sicknesses for both mother and baby.
• Breastfeeding gives mothers time to relax and bond with newborns.
• Breastfeeding saves significant time and money.