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Juliet Sims's picture

For most expectant moms, breastfeeding is the natural choice. With all the costs that come with having a baby, saving dollars on formula is a welcome change. Plus, breastfeeding decreases a woman’s risk of certain chronic diseases, and breast and ovarian cancer. And, of course, the biggest reason of all: breastfeeding confers many health benefits to the baby, including protecting against infections and chronic diseases and helping to build a healthy immune system.


In California, 90 percent of pregnant women enter the hospital intending to breastfeed. Why then are only half of those mothers exclusively breastfeeding when they are discharged just a few days later?


Speaking personally, it took the birth and subsequent hospital stay with my first child, Mirabel, to fully understand the reasons. Like all new mothers, the minutes and hours that followed my daughter’s birth were characterized by an intense desire to ensure she was healthy. Fatigued, and in wholly new territory, I looked to the hospital systems and staff to guide me.


I was lucky to have delivered Mira in a baby-friendly hospital, which meant that each of the staff I came in contact with were committed to helping me carry out my intent to breastfeed. From ensuring that breastfeeding was initiated in the first hour after birth, to in-house lactation support, to firm limits on formula marketing, the hospital environment helped me stay on course.


Across California and the country, most new moms do not have the same opportunities and supports that I did to help them meet their breastfeeding goals. A 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fewer than four percent of  U.S. maternity hospitals provide new mothers with the services they need to initiate and continue nursing.


What’s more, many of the hospitals with the lowest exclusive breastfeeding rates serve low-income women of color. That means hospital practices are one of the key factors perpetuating disparities in breastfeeding rates – and a critical point of intervention. The data show that hospitals with supportive breastfeeding policies majorly reduce disparities for low-income mothers and mothers of color.


In addition to the health benefits breastfeeding provides, there are significant economic bonuses. If 90 percent of U.S. mothers exclusively breastfed for the first six months, the U.S. would save an estimated $13 billion annually in reduced medical costs.


Here are the facts: moms want to breastfeed, breastfed babies receive immediate and lifelong health benefits, and breastfeeding adds up to major cost-savings. So why aren’t more hospitals becoming baby-friendly?


This year, California state Senators Kevin de León and Fran Pavley have introduced legislation that would do just that.


Next week, on Wednesday, April 3, California’s Senate Health Committee will hear testimony on SB 402, a landmark bill that would ensure that all perinatal hospitals in California adopt practices that support and foster breastfeeding among new moms and infants. The practices that SB 402 would embed – keeping mothers and babies in the same room; promoting skin-to-skin contact; encouraging breastfeeding shortly after birth; providing staff education on breastfeeding support; and avoiding unnecessary formula supplementation – have been found to play a crucial role in determining whether mothers will meet their goals of exclusively breastfeeding their babies when they go home.


This bill is a bold policy step, deeply rooted in the evidence about what we know works. Every parent wants what’s best for their children right from the start. California’s landmark legislation sends a clear message to mothers who want to breastfeed that breastfeeding is one best practice in parenting that they don’t have to shoulder alone.


For more information about SB 402 and to take action, visit California WIC Association’s website.

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