SPRING HILL — With the goal of obtaining a "Baby Friendly" designation, Spring Hill Regional Hospital has announced its selection to participate in a national initiative to increase the rate of breast-feeding as a preventive health measure for infants and mothers.
The national initiative, Best Fed Beginnings, focuses on promoting breast-feeding in states that have the lowest rates. It is a 22-month educational collaboration among hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Baby-Friendly USA and the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality.
The 2011 Breast-feeding Report Card released by the CDC shows that only 12.9 percent of babies in Florida are exclusively breast-fed at 6 months and 39 percent at the same age breast-fed at all.
"We look forward to working with Spring Hill Regional Hospital," said Dr. Charlie Homer, president and CEO of NICHQ. "We are especially pleased that we received so many applications from hospitals in states where there are so few facilities with the 'Baby Friendly' designation and from hospitals that serve populations of women who now are much less likely to breast-feed."
According to Baby-Friendly USA, the risk of childhood cancer and diabetes decreases for breast-fed children, while mothers have a reduced risk for conditions such as osteoporosis and breast and ovarian cancer.
In order to obtain a Baby-Friendly designation, hospitals and health centers must meet 10 criteria. Among them: informing all pregnant women about the benefits of breast-feeding and having a written breast-feeding policy.
Jan Morton, a lactation consultant at Spring Hill Regional, said the initiative is a driving force behind a cultural change at the hospital.
The hospital will have specific training for nurses and physicians. The promotion and support of breast-feeding will begin in physicians' offices during prenatal care and will even be given to mothers who come through the emergency room.
Only four hospitals in Florida hold the designation.
Sandra Dixon, nutrition program director at the Hernando County Health Department, said that breast-feeding rates among the Hernando mothers with whom she works are lower than the state average.
"We do want to create a more breast-feeding-friendly community," Dixon said. "I think pregnant women are interested in breast-feeding, but sometimes they lack support."
Denise Barbera, Spring Hill Regional's chief nursing officer, said the hospital "is delighted to have been chosen to participate in this important effort and to have the opportunity to improve our maternity care services to better support breast-feeding.
"We recognize that for women who plan to breast-feed, the hospital experience strongly influences a mother's ability to start and continue breast-feeding."
Spring Hill Regional was one of five Florida hospitals chosen last week for the initiative. Ninety hospitals nationwide are participating in the initiative.
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Laura Herrera can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.