State prods hospitals to do more on breastfeeding

A 2011 CDC report showed the percentage of Georgia births at “Baby-Friendly’’ hospitals — those that promote breastfeeding — stood at zero.

This year’s updated report card shows Georgia still at zero.

State public health officials, though, aim to help put Georgia hospitals on the “Baby-Friendly’’ map.

The Georgia Department of Public Health and the Georgia SHAPE initiative this week announced that nine hospitals in the state have been chosen to participate in a Baby-Friendly hospital incentive program.

A hospital is designated ‘‘Baby-Friendly’’ when it follows the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding. These 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 hospital discharge.

The national percentage of births at Baby-Friendly hospitals is only 6 percent, and several other states are in the same ‘‘zero’’ category as Georgia.

Breastfeeding has important health and economic benefits, the CDC says.

It can reduce the risk of childhood obesity and diabetes, and lower the risk of respiratory and ear infections. And mothers who breastfeed also benefit, having lower risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

Low breastfeeding rates add more than $2 billion a year to health care costs, the CDC adds.

The state Public Health agency notes there is mounting evidence that babies who are exclusively breastfed for at least their first six months have a much lower risk of becoming overweight or obese. Georgia currently ranks 43rd in the nation for breastfeeding care delivered in maternity facilities, Public Health said. Georgia also has the second-highest rate of childhood obesity in the nation.

A multi-agency initiative called Georgia SHAPE, launched by Gov. Nathan Deal, brings together the government, philanthropic, academic and business communities to address childhood obesity in Georgia.

“Increasing breastfeeding rates in Georgia is critical to reducing obesity rates,” said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, in a statement. “With one in five of our precious children in Georgia classified as obese, our efforts must focus on the very beginning of these new lives.”

Fitzgerald has made increasing breastfeeding rates in Georgia a priority at Public Health.

The nine hospitals in the state’s incentive program are:

Doctors Hospital, Columbus

Gwinnett Medical Center, Lawrenceville

Hamilton Medical Center, Dalton

Phoebe Putney, Albany

Southeast Georgia Health System, Brunswick

Southern Regional Medical Center, Riverdale

The Medical Center, Columbus

Tift Regional Medical Center, Tifton

Wellstar Kennestone, Marietta

Half of U.S.-born babies are given formula within the first week, and by nine months, just 31 percent of babies are breastfeeding at all.

Yet CDC data show breastfeeding rates have been rising nationally. Breastfeeding initiation increased from 74.6 percent in 2008 to 76.9 percent in 2009 births — the largest annual increase over the previous decade.

Seven other Georgia hospitals are working on becoming Baby-Friendly through a program, announced in June, that’s led by the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality. (Here’s a GHN article about the seven.) The hospitals are:

Atlanta Medical Center, Atlanta

DeKalb Medical, Decatur

Doctors Hospital, Augusta

Emory University Hospital Midtown, Atlanta

Grady Memorial Hospital, Atlanta

Piedmont Henry Hospital, Stockbridge

WellStar Cobb Hospital, Austell