While childbirth can be romanticized as a “natural” experience, in reality it’s often surprisingly complex and unpredictable.
Breastfeeding frequently follows suit.
Many new mothers struggle to produce milk right away. A baby may not know how to latch or suck at first. The act of breastfeeding can be uncomfortable. It is routinely time-consuming, and there are special positions with silly names to learn.
“Once moms and babies get the hang of it, breastfeeding usually becomes instinctual and enjoyable, but that doesn’t always happen right away,” said William Isenberg, M.D., Ph.D., Sutter Health’s chief quality and safety officer and a board-certified obstetrician.
Getting in the breastfeeding groove takes practice and perseverance. That process can start while mom and baby are still in the hospital. In fact, studies show that hospital staff and environment strongly influence future breastfeeding success.
“A healthy infant’s instinct to breastfeed peaks about 20 to 30 minutes after they’re born, which is why we promote skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth,” Dr. Isenberg said. “We also have staff trained in lactation support, educational resources, breast pump equipment and other supplies all in place to help moms with their earliest attempts to nurse their newborns.”
Breastfeeding is encouraged by experts given the health benefits it provides. It’s also actively tracked as a signal of future public health and current healthcare quality.
Sutter Health supports the importance of tracking breastfeeding measures and recently received an Early Implementer award from the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative (CMQCC) for reporting on five such measures across all of its network birthing centers in 2020.
“Earning this award for work done during the pandemic demonstrates our unwavering commitment to patients,” said Dr. Isenberg. “We have placed special attention and focused coordination on this quality reporting effort because it helps us support families in our care now and in the future.”
Sutter was the only health system to receive an Early Implementer award, all other recipients were individual hospitals.
The Sutter network reports the percent of women who initiate breastfeeding in an infant’s first hour of life; exclusively or partially breastfeed during their hospital stay; engage in skin-to-skin contact following birth; and use donated breast milk to feed their baby. Sutter also recognizes these data may help identify and address health disparities among and between racial groups, and looks forward to analyzing the metrics in the context of birth equity.