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Breastfeeding in Arkansas is gaining momentum

The winds of change are blowing in Arkansas when it comes to breastfeeding.

Our state is routinely near the bottom of the country when it comes to the percentage of mothers who breastfeed, but recent efforts promise a brighter future for Arkansas’ nursing moms.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to speak alongside First Lady Susan Hutchinson and state Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) at the State Capitol to commemorate the state’s Breastfeeding Awareness Day as proclaimed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Rep. Bentley organized the event along with Healthy Active Arkansas to draw attention to Arkansas’ laws regarding breastfeeding in public and in the workplace.

In my 20-plus years working as a lactation consultant, I have seen great strides made in understanding, technology and policy regarding breastfeeding. There are many more resources for nursing mothers now than when I first started, and I’m excited to see more and more mothers take advantage of the support that is available.

As the team lead of the Healthy Active Arkansas Breastfeeding priority, I also had the privilege of attending a press conference announcing and celebrating the Baby Friendly designation of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville on Feb. 14. This press conference and celebration, which was also attended by Mrs. Hutchinson, were important because those two birthing hospitals are the first Baby Friendly designated hospitals in Arkansas.

Only 417 U.S. hospitals and birthing centers in 49 states and the District of Columbia hold the Baby Friendly designation. More than 20 percent of annual births (approximately 807,500 births) occur at these Baby Friendly-designated facilities. Every hospital that attains the Baby Friendly designation moves us closer to meeting important public health goals of increasing the proportion of live births that occur in facilities that provide recommended care for lactating mothers and their babies. In 2007, only 2.9 percent of U.S. births occurred in Baby Friendly-designated facilities. The Healthy People 2020 goal is 8.1%.

After the press conference last month, the leadership team and committee members of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville met with Baby Friendly team members from several of the other hospitals around our state that are currently working toward this prestigious and important designation. The information they shared with us was invaluable. They reviewed common roadblocks and solutions and provided needed encouragement for the challenges that will be faced in obtaining designation. With the leadership of our two designated hospitals, and the support of Healthy Active Arkansas, there will be six additional Baby Friendly hospitals in Arkansas within the next two years! 

The Baby Friendly journey creates an environment that is supportive of best practices in maternity care and of optimal infant feeding. The 4–D Pathway is a fit for all institutions; large and small hospitals, for profit and not-for-profit hospitals, teaching hospitals, and hospitals at various stages of development in their breastfeeding support programs. If you would like more information on how your birthing facility can make a commitment to improve infant feeding policies, training and practices by embarking on the 4-D pathway to Baby Friendly designation, visit the Baby Friendly USA website.

Jessica Donahue is a registered nurse and lactation consultant for Baptist Health in Little Rock, Ark. She serves as the breastfeeding priority area lead for Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide health initiative that both Baptist Health and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute helped launch.

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