Saint Mary’s Hospital pursues Baby-Friendly USA designation

With the financial support of a national grant from the EMPower initiative and a roughly $14,000 grant from Saint Mary’s Foundation, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital is working to enhance maternity practices.

The hospital, a regional health ministry of Livonia-based Trinity Health, announced earlier this month it was selected to participate in the national EMPower initiative, a quality improvement program designed to enhance maternity practices and lead to a Baby-Friendly USA designation.

Dr. Mariel DiMusto-Poortenga, co-director of the neonatal intensive care unit and director of the lactation program at Saint Mary’s, said the hospital decided to work toward becoming a Baby-Friendly designated hospital and pursued the competitive national grant.

“It implies putting our collective resources both on an inpatient and on an outpatient movement toward exclusively breastfed babies within our institution — or at least to the degree that is possible,” said DiMusto-Poortenga. “In order to proceed with that process and the Baby-Friendly initiative, which is put together by UNICEF and the CDC, we decided to pursue a grant through EMPower.”

The EMPower Breastfeeding: Enhancing Maternity Practices initiative is designed to support hospitals in achieving the Baby-Friendly USA designation and is funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

The EMPower team is led by research firm Abt Associates, Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute and Center for Public Health Quality.

Hospitals selected to participate in the program  not only receive grant funding allocated toward cost sharing for technical assistance and designation feeds, but also health education training and tailored coaching through informational webinars and learning collaborative programs.

Baby-Friendly USA is the accrediting body for the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which is an international program of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

“The EMPower initiative is CDC-based, and then the Baby-Friendly initiative is WHO and UNICEF-based with some dovetailing with the CDC,” said DiMusto-Poortenga.

“It was a competitive kind of path that we were on to receive the EMPower grant. Not only do they coach you along the way, but they provide a lot of the funding for the steps that lead you toward obtaining the Baby-Friendly designation.”

DiMusto-Poortenga said Saint Mary’s also was required to contribute a significant amount of funding in addition to receiving the national grant. With support from the CEO and the board of trustees, the hospital applied for a grant from Saint Mary’s Foundation and received roughly $14,000 to help subsidize costs.

“The $14,000 we were awarded was a fully funded grant by our hospital foundation board and will help to subsidize parts of the Baby-Friendly initiative and the EMPower grant that wasn’t fully-funded,” said DiMusto-Poortenga. “We will use that to, for example, pay for moving into phase two of the Baby-Friendly initiative, which we already have, and then additionally to subsidize some of the education of the various staff that need to be coached.”

The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding is defined by UNICEF and the World Health Organization and is incorporated into the EMPower initiative. The steps begin with health care facilities having a written breastfeeding policy routinely communicated to all health care staff, training all health care staff in skills necessary to implement the policy, and informing all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.

“Our hospital is really on its way toward the Baby-Friendly initiative, in that we are a very breastfeeding-focused hospital and always have really focused in that direction — we are progressive in that sense,” said DiMusto-Poortenga.

“However, we found having more reinforcement on the outpatient perspective will not only have our moms prepared to consider breastfeeding once they come into the hospital but also to continue breastfeeding as they leave the hospital.”

The significance of the designation and the effort to improve and enhance maternity care practices in the hospital “suggest a dedication of the hospital to focusing on the maternal-infant health,” according to DiMusto-Poortenga.

“In every hospital that has been initiated it has led to a dramatic increase in breastfeeding rates, and our hospital breastfeeding rates are actually statistically quite high; however, where we would like to focus our energies is before entering the hospital … and in maintaining breastfeeding as long as possible via support outside the hospital,” said DiMusto-Poortenga. “

Cynthia Klein, project director for the EMPower initiative and senior associate at Abt Associates, said one of the most effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant is to breastfeed.

“Hospitals play a vital role in educating expecting and new mothers about the many benefits of breastfeeding,” said Klein. “We’re pleased to carry out the important work of ensuring every hospital enrolled has the tools and process in place to earn a Baby-Friendly designation.”

“From my perspective, not only is breastfeeding a great option for the infant regarding neurodevelopment progress, regarding long-term healthy lifestyle and long-term health, but also for the mom in the context of weight management, prevention of breast cancer and other well-documented effects of breastfeeding,” said DiMusto-Poortenga.

She said Mercy Health Saint Mary’s was thrilled to receive the EMPower grant, and the Saint Mary’s Foundation grant reflects the commitment of Bill Manns, CEO of Mercy Health and the entire board regarding the initiative.

“It is kind of a boost toward your organization and your likelihood toward success on this path. When we received it among the other people who were also competing for it, we were proud to get it because it sort of reinforced we were on the right path.”

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