ALBANY, Ga. -- The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Georgia SHAPE Initiative announced last week that nine hospitals have been chosen to participate in the Baby-Friendly Hospital 5-STAR Incentive Project.
Among them are Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany and Tift Regional Medical Center in Tifton.
“Baby Friendly” hospitals are expected to promote and support breastfeeding — specifically exclusive breastfeeding — with supportive policies and practices, staff education and post-discharge community referrals, officials with DPH say. To achieve this designation, a hospital is supposed to implement maternity care practices known as “The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.”
“We are so honored we were selected,” said Sarah Suggs, obstetrics unit team leader with Tift Regional. “We have formed a team (to help us) focus on eight of the 10 steps (for breastfeeding) we have chosen. We are excited and moving forward.
“We just want to provide the best evidence-based care for our patient base. Our goal is to hopefully educate patients and empower them to make the choice that is best for their children.”
Funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the project will serve as a pilot for the five-star recognition program so this group of hospitals can be provided training, technical assistance and financial support while they work to reach the “Baby-Friendly” designation.
“We are real excited to be selected,” said Debra Knight, lactation consultant with Phoebe. “It helps Phoebe, and it helps the moms and babies we serve.”
Knight said that the Albany hospital would primarily use the opportunity to ramp up education efforts on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding.
“Our breastfeeding rates are 50-55 percent,” Knight said. “I’ve been here 17 years and we have been hovering in that same area.”
Some of the things Knight says Phoebe has been trying to do is get rid of its pacifiers, so that mothers can recognize feeding cues from their infants, and encourage “skin-to-skin” contact.
“It’s a health benefit,” she said. “Breastfed babies are healthy babies.”
One star will be awarded for every two steps implemented of “The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding,” information from Georgia SHAPE says.
The Georgia SHAPE website also says that the pilot incentive project was to provide funding opportunities for up to 10 hospitals in the state. Applicants were eligible to receive up to $7,000 to defray costs associated with improving the quality of maternity care related to breastfeeding and pursuing the designation.
Experts say there is evidence that babies who are exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of life have a much lower risk of becoming overweight or obese.
“Increasing breastfeeding rates in Georgia is critical to reducing obesity rates,” said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, commissioner for the Georgia Department of Public Health. “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.”
Georgia currently ranks 43rd in the nation for breastfeeding care delivered in maternity facilities, DPH officials say.
The other seven Georgia hospitals selected to participate in the project are Doctors’ Hospital, Columbus; Gwinnett Medical Center, Lawrenceville; Hamilton Medical Center, Dalton; Southeast Georgia Health System, Brunswick; Southern Regional Medical Center, Riverdale; The Medical Center, Columbus; and Wellstar Kennestone in Marietta.