New Orleans Advocate Highlights 'Best Fed Beginnings' Program in Louisiana Hospitals

"Two local hospitals join effort to promote breastfeeding"

The Advocate

December 5, 2013

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The [Best Fed Beginnings] program's major goal is to increase the number of breastfed babies.

The $6 million initiative began last year and will conclude in September 2014.

The 89 participating hospitals must complete the American Academy of Pediatrics-endorsed Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding program. By doing so, they will receive a "baby-friendly" designation from the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cites many short- and long-term health advantages for infants in its endorsement of breastfeeding as a "basic health issue" and not a "lifestyle choice."

However, only about 53 percent of Louisiana infants are ever breastfed, compared with about 77 percent nationally, and fewer than 10 percent of Louisiana infants are exclusively breastfed for six months, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. That compares with 16.3 percent nationally. Louisiana is ranked 44th in the nation for the percentage of infants who are ever breastfed, according to the state health department.

"Clearly, we'd want it to be a lot higher than that," said Kathy Kliebert, secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals. "Breastfeeding has so many good benefits, not just for the baby, but for the mom."

The benefits extend to the state healthcare system, she said. "It's a fiscal investment as well," Kliebert said. "We save as a state."

Kliebert referenced a 2012 study by researchers at the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, who found that Louisiana could save $216 million annually and prevent 18 deaths a year if 90 percent of newborns were exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life.

The study compared the rates of respiratory tract infections, infectious diarrhea, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and gastroenteritis necrotizing, a gastrointestinal disease, in infants who were exclusively breastfed with those who received formula. The rates of disease and, therefore, the associated costs were higher with the latter group, researchers said.

The Best Fed Beginnings initiative is a step toward improving the state's performance, Kliebert said.