As part of a state initiative, Memorial Medical Center will begin offering breastfeeding classes free to the public this month.
MMC recently earned the distinction of being a Texas Ten Step hospital from the Texas Department of State Health Services. In collaboration with other agencies in the state, the Texas Ten Step program is part of an initiative to increase breastfeeding among new mothers, said Donn Stringo, director of inpatient services at MMC.
"Texas Ten Step is an initiative by the state, by DSHS, and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) jointly to increase breastfeeding rates among the population," Stringo said. "It's a huge savings for the state in WIC funds if they can get more moms breastfeeding over formula. Plus, it's so much better for the babies. There are just so many advantages. It's amazing."
The designation, according to Stringo, is a step toward improving the health of newborns and infants in Calhoun County.
"It's a big step. We took it really seriously this time. I think the first time it was just about getting the designation. Now, we're really trying to put the might behind it to follow up and our physicians are absolutely in support of it," Stringo said.
"The hospital had become Texas Ten Step three years ago, and we were going through the realignment and re-designation process, which has taken us most of the year," Stringo added. "A lot of the policies have changed even more. They've gotten stricter. We don't give breastfeeding moms formula bags and formula. We do everything to support their breastfeeding efforts. We don't feed their babies formula without their permission. That used to be common practice.
That's what we were told to do and a lot of physicians still want you to do that."
To become a Texas Ten Step hospital, there were 10 benchmarks MMC had to meet. Those include having a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated with healthcare staff and associated trainings as well as informing pregnant women of breastfeeding benefits, helping new mothers with breast feeding within an hour of birth, showing mothers how to maintain lactation when separated from infant and practicing rooming after birth.
"It's a process you go through. You have to meet their guidelines, the Texas ten steps. We had to change some policy that we had. We had to change to a rooming in policy with moms where babies are routinely in the rooms with moms, not in the nursery," Stringo said. "We almost never have a baby in the nursery now unless they're going to be transferred out to another facility or mom is really sick. (Most) babies are in the room with mom all the time.
"We're skin to skin within the first 30 minutes of birth with baby on mom encouraging that bonding, and that also helps with milk letdown," she added. "The biggest thing was changing our policies. We were doing a lot of the stuff, but the policies didn't really reflect it. Now we can say, 'Yes our policy does reflect it. We're going to do this correctly."
The Texas Ten Step program is endorsed by the Texas Medical Association and is based on the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF) Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding program. Stringo said breastfeeding initiation has increased at MMC since the program's implementation.
"When I took this job in January, we were at about a 50 to 60 percent ratio of moms entering the hospital wanting to exclusively breastfeed who left exclusively breastfeeding, which was not good. Now, in the last six months, we've been at 100 percent, which is great. We're excited we've been able to do that," Stringo said.
The new guidelines have come from studies, Stringo said.
"Lots of things have changed in how they promote breastfeeding now. There was a time when if you were sick or your baby was sick, you didn't breastfeed, or if you smoked, you didn't breastfeed," she said. "They've changed so much of that now. The research just doesn't bear it out. Now they say if the baby is sick and the baby breastfeeds, your body makes antibodies against whatever the baby has, so not only are you increasing your protection, but you're helping to get the baby well faster."
Part of the new guidelines include increasing staff education on breastfeeding. Stringo said nurses at MMC have taken classes to learn how to help new mothers with breastfeeding.
"We're going to be sending some of our nurses to shadow the lactation consultants at Driscoll, which we haven't done in the past," she said. "We had done some classes and everyone had a little breastfeeding knowledge, but no one was so very into it. We actually have someone very seriously considering becoming a lactation consultant here in the county, which would be great."
"We've been able to do about five classes now with our staff to increase their breastfeeding education," she added.
Beginning Jan. 29, MMC will begin offering breastfeeding classes to those in need, which could be anyone, Stringo said.
"The class is open to anybody whether they're delivering here or not. It is a service to the community. Pregnant or not, if they just want more information we want them to get that information," she said. "I've been surprised how I've been able to help my own family."
"It's for moms or people assisting moms, like grandmothers. A lot of people don't have breastfeeding skills anymore.
They're gone. They've skipped a couple generations, and it's very hard to get back into it," she added.
The quartely classes will be taught by Laurie Beck, an international board certified lactation consultant from Driscoll Children's Hospital of Corpus Christi. The classes will be held in the third floor classroom from 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
"It's basic breastfeeding techniques, problem solving ways to manage once you get home, things to expect when things get going, some good education about why breastfeeding is important," Stringo said.
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