7 Georgia hospitals to join breastfeeding initiative

Six metro Atlanta hospitals and an Augusta facility will join a national initiative to improve breastfeeding rates in states, including Georgia, where those figures are low.

They will be among 90 U.S. hospitals participating in the Best Fed Beginnings program, which aims to improve maternity care and increase the number of hospitals with a “Baby-Friendly’’ designation.

The National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality, with support from the CDC, is leading the effort to encourage hospitals to provide a full range of support that mothers need to be able to breastfeed their infants.

The CDC reported last year that only 14 percent of hospitals have a model breastfeeding policy, and less than 4 percent follow at least nine of 10 recommended practices, the report said.

And in Georgia, as in several Southern states, the percentage of births at ‘‘Baby-Friendly’’ hospitals that promote breastfeeding was zero, according to the 2011 CDC report.

Although breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive health measures for infants and mothers, half of U.S.-born babies are given formula within the first week, and by nine months of age, only 31 percent of babies are being breastfed.

The Georgia hospitals chosen for the new program are Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta Medical Center and Emory University Hospital Midtown, all in Atlanta; DeKalb Medical Center in Decatur; Piedmont Henry Hospital in Stockbridge; WellStar Cobb Hospital in Austell; and Doctors Hospital in Augusta.

“We recognize that the hospital experience strongly influences a mother’s ability to start and continue breastfeeding,’’ Grady CEO John Haupert said in a statement this week. “We are committed to implementing evidence-based care through the Baby-Friendly designation process so that mothers delivering in our hospital who choose to breastfeed are fully supported.”

For the baby, breastfeeding lowers the incidence and severity of many infectious diseases, reduces infant mortality, and supports neurodevelopment. It also decreases infants’ risk of becoming obese later in childhood.

For mothers, breastfeeding decreases the risks of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

Through the 22-month Best Fed initiative, mothers at Grady “will be exposed to the many benefits of breastfeeding,’’ said Dr. Letitia Mobley, assistant professor of neonatology in the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine, and an attending physician at Grady-Newborn Nursery.

Grady, the state’s largest safety-net hospital, has about 3,000 births a year.

Babies born pre-term are especially susceptible to infections and other health problems, Mobley said Thursday. She said the Best Fed program would help counter ‘‘a lot of misinformation’’ about breastfeeding and infant formula use.

The steps for Baby-Friendly hospitals include helping moms initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth; practicing “rooming in’’ by allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day; and connecting mothers with support groups and other resources to help with breastfeeding after the mother and baby leave the hospital.

Last year, in response to the CDC report, the Georgia Hospital Association said the negative statistic about Baby-Friendly hospitals in the state was misleading. GHA said hospitals in the state were actively encouraging breastfeeding and were following the recommended practices, even if none might have pursued the official Baby-Friendly designation.