Local hospitals strive to offer a balance of maternity options

No hospitals in the Northwest suburbs currently have "baby-friendly" certification. But, officials at some local hospitals say they are adopting new policies to promote breast-feeding and more family bonding in their maternity centers.

Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville has implemented several of the requirements for baby-friendly status. For example, the hospital no longer give samples of formula to moms as a gift and instead gives sleep sacks that promote safe sleep for infants.

The hospital also created a newborn admission nurse role to work with families during labor and the first hours after delivery to enhance support in the labor room and transition to postpartum care, said Lisa Plucinski, coordinator lactation services obstetrics.

In January the hospital began an infant feeding policy that addresses the Ten Steps to Breastfeeding Success as created by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, Plucinski said. This is also in accordance with the state of Illinois Hospital Infant Feeding Act, she added.

Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights began a "family-friendly" initiative in March, said Don Houchins, director of women's and children's services.

"In the family-friendly model, we encourage the family to have a say, trying to empower the parents to have a say in the birth experience," Houchins said. "What we're looking for is each family to have a meaningful birth experience, and each family defines that a little bit differently."

Elmhurst Memorial Hospital practices baby-friendly care by providing 24-hour care of newborns by rooming-in for all patients. The hospital also encourage and welcomes a family member to stay and learn to care for the baby as well, said Roman Allen, director of women and children services.

"We educate the parents on the benefits of rooming-in and getting to know their babies cues prior to discharge to improve the transition home," Allen said. "We do have a nursery available at the parents' request."

Edward Hospital in Naperville also encourages new moms to keep their babies with them as much as possible. At Edward, during the hours of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the hospital does not staff the nursery unless there is a baby who needs monitoring or medical care, said Patricia Bradley, director of obstetrics.

They do staff the nursery from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. because most parents have requested this, she added. Babies who are breast-feeding (88%) are in and out for feedings, Bradley said.

"Keeping baby and mom together is based on sound research which shows that they both sleep better when not separated and moms learn their baby's feeding cues and sleep habits more quickly when staying together," Bradley said. "This helps with breast-feeding success and an easier transition to home."

But, while breast-feeding and having babies in the room with moms is encouraged, hospital officials say they also strive to respect parents' choices.

"We will support our mothers no matter what their feeding choice may be, breast or bottle," Bradley said. "Our job is to try to educate moms about the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization - Mom providing her own milk for her baby is best. For mothers who choose not to breast-feed, we still educate on safe formula preparation."

"We've taken the position that we're encouraging but we're not forcing," Houchins said.

At Advocate Condell, they have seen an increase in the number of mothers providing exclusive breast milk to their infant during their hospital stay. Plucinski said. However, she said staff is sensitive to those who choose not to breast-feed.

"We look to support the choices of all families. We must provide evidence-based education to ensure that mother's choices are informed. If a mother chooses to bottle feed, we will educate and support her as she cares for her infant," Plucinski said.

"One thing that many people do not understand about 'baby-friendly' is that while the goal is to inform families about the importance of breast-feeding and breast milk, we cannot lose sight that some families may not breast-feed," Plucinski said. "Sometimes this is choice. Sometimes there are medical conditions that do not allow mothers to provide breast milk for their infant. Baby-friendly has guidelines to ensure that hospitals provide education about formula preparation and bottle feeding to families that need it. This individualized care is important to make sure mothers and babies go home confident and safe."

Houchins said that while rooming-in is highly encouraged at Northwest Community, if a mom needs a break, staff takes the baby to the nursery.

"Sometimes the best thing we can do to help a mom be successful at breast-feeding is to take the baby in the nursery for a few hours and let them get some sleep," Houchins said. "Some of my colleagues might disagree with me on that. But, sometimes sleep deprivation is a big deterrent from both breast-feeding and a meaningful birth experience."

The key is to focus on what the family needs, he said. Some mothers don't want the baby to leave them at any time. Others need a break.

The hospitals offer classes and tours, so expecting parents know what to expect during their stay in the maternity centers.

And education sometimes continues after parents and babies leave the hospital, through lactation consultants and other programs.

Advocate Condell has partnered with physicians, the Lake County Health Department, and WIC program leaders to close the gap between the hospital and community.

"Since we've started the program (about a year ago), we've seen a pretty dramatic increase in sustained breast-feeding in health department moms who are primarily treated in Round Lake," said Sarah Toomey, coordinator, public affairs and marketing, Advocate Condell Medical Center.

Change can be challenging, hospital officials say, and they will be evaluating and refining their policies through feedback from patients, physicians and staff. Ultimately, their goals remain the same: healthy babies, moms and families.

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