- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) - Brady Owens was born on Memorial Day, and it wasn’t long before her 6-pound body was in her mother’s arms.

“Nothing compares to this moment,” Charlee Owens said.

Her daughter was wrapped in a pink blanket, tight against her chest. An arrangement of flowers in a cowboy boot vase sat on a shelf by the bed.

“Nothing compares, not even the rodeo,” she added, with a laugh.

This was the second time Charlee and her husband, Landon, have been to Greenville Memorial Hospital to deliver a baby. The Travelers Rest couple welcomed their son, Stetson, four years ago.

But things were a tad different then.

When Stetson was born, Landon was the first parent to hold him. This time around, Brady was immediately placed skin-to-skin against Charlee’s chest.

The skin-to-skin policy is one of the World Health Organization’s “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding,” and it’s one of several new policies and strategies Greenville Memorial Hospital has rolled out in recent years to encourage more mothers to breast-feed.

“We have gathered lots and lots of evidence over the last decade that shows that breast-feeding really is the foundation for good health for both the mom and the baby,” said Dr. Jennifer Hudson, medical director of newborn services with the Greenville Health System’s Children Hospital.

Studies show that ear infections and diarrhea are more common among formula-fed babies. Formula-fed babies also have higher risks of necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in preterm infants, and higher risks of respiratory infections, asthma, obesity and type 2 diabetes, according to the Office on Women’s Health.

“We are being tasked with taking a stand as health care providers and actually talking to people about (breast-feeding) being a health decision for mothers and babies, even when moms are pregnant,” Hudson said.

Greenville Memorial Hospital is trying to become only the fifth hospital in the state (and the largest in the state) to be recognized as a “Baby-Friendly Hospital.”

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program that was launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1991 to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother-baby bonding, according to its website.

Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital, the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, Georgetown Memorial Hospital and Waccamaw Community Hospital in Murrells Inlet have attained “Baby Friendly” status. Hospitals keep track of how many babies breast-feed during their stay in the hospital before being discharged and these hospitals each have a breast-feeding initiation rate higher than 80 percent.

According to a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 67.5 percent of South Carolina women surveyed said they had breast-fed. The national average in that same year was 77 percent. It is recommended that babies drink breast milk exclusively for the first six months of their lives; the study showed that only 32 percent of the women surveyed in South Carolina were still breastfeeding at six months.

While the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative does not provide any additional funding to hospitals with the accreditation, BFHI assists hospitals in giving all mothers the information, confidence and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breast-feeding their babies and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so.

The hospitals must adhere and abide by the World Health Organization’s Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding to receive, and retain, a Baby-Friendly designation.

The steps include training all staff to follow the same handwritten breast-feeding policy, giving infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated, giving no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breast-feeding infants, and allowing infants to remain in the room with their mothers for 24 hours a day.

Hudson has been trying to help GHS become a Baby-Friendly Hospital since 2002. Her efforts are finally coming to fruition. Recently, representatives from the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative visited for an assessment. The hospital expects to find out whether it qualifies later this year.

Hudson is excited. She said the journey has been a long and difficult one. Several changes had to be made.

One-hundred and seventy-nine nurses and 270 physicians had to be trained on how to follow the same policies.

Landscape photos on the walls were replaced with portraits of mothers and babies. Magazines with formula or pacifier advertisements were removed from the waiting room.

Hudson said pacifiers are discouraged because they have a different texture and taste than nipples and may cause babies to develop the “wrong suck technique and not pull milk from the breast properly.” She said pacifiers also cover up “feeding cues,” which are signs shown by the baby that he or she is hungry.

The nursery is a lot quieter and less crowded now. Healthy babies now stay in the rooms with their mothers 24 hours each day, instead of the nursery. The only time healthy babies go to the nursery is for circumcision.

The transition caused some complaints early on, Hudson said.

“People don’t like being told where their baby has to be,” she said. “They want the option of putting their baby in the nursery at night so they can get their rest. Here, it’s a complete culture change. You’re not going to have a back-up system when you get home. It’s good practice for them.

“We are not abandoning moms,” she added “The nurses go into the room every hour and help the mom take care of the baby. Instead of doing all the care in the nursery, they are doing all the care in the mom’s room in front of her.”

Hudson said administration had concerns about how much formula would cost if the hospital pursued “Baby-Friendly” status.

Formula vendors used to give the hospital a diaper bag full of coupons and a giant can of formula for all patients to take home with them, at no cost.

Plus, all of the standard formulas and other infant feeding supplies were free in the past.

The hospital no longer gives away the samples, and as a result, has to pay more for baby formula, even though it keeps less on supply.

The Baby-Friendly Initiative requires hospitals to purchase formula at a fair market value price (FMV). FMV is calculated for a hospital based on the average discount for supplies that it typically receives. For example, if a hospital gets a 75 percent discount on Pampers and other products (on average), then it is allowed to pay 75 percent less than retail for formula, too.

The hospital could no longer accept formula for free or at an unreasonable discount.

Charlee Owens doesn’t mind the changes. She said she breast-fed her first baby until he was 2 years old and plans to do the same with Brady.

“I knew when my first one was born that it wasn’t going to be an option,” she said. “I knew I was going to do it regardless; it’s better for the baby.”

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