Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH) has expanded a community-based initiative educating area Latinos about the importance of breastfeeding, while also providing valuable resources and services. As part of the program, bilingual breastfeeding peer counselors, who are specially trained by NCH lactation experts, are visiting moms in the Hospital to offer added support and to bridge potential communication gaps.
"Engaging with moms immediately after delivery is crucial when it comes to lactation education. We want to ensure every mom fully understands the benefits of breastfeeding and is aware of the resources available once they go home," says Karen Baker, NCH's director of Community Services.
The breastfeeding peer counselors, who are bilingual in English and Spanish, serve as a complement to the Hospital's nursing staff and team of certified lactation specialists, who discuss the preventative health benefits of breastfeeding with new moms and help initiate breastfeeding before mom and baby go home. The breastfeeding counselors provide an added benefit as they connect with the Latina moms through shared language and cultural values, hoping to build a relationship that will continue after the hospital stay.
"Sometimes the only thing Spanish-speaking mothers need is encouragement and a connection to an expert in the Latino community," Baker says, adding that new moms who don't have a female support team around them can benefit from the presence and accessibility of a community-based peer counselor.
The breastfeeding peer counselors are an extension of NCH's Promotoras de Salud Program – a nationally recognized model in which bilingual women from the community are trained to deliver important health information to the Latino population. When they're not visiting moms in the hospital, breastfeeding peer counselors are out in the community discussing the benefits of breastfeeding, addressing how to overcome related challenges, and helping moms to find additional support services available at NCH or other local agencies.
According to Pat Tomlinson, RN, BSN, IBCLC, who oversees Lactation Services at NCH, the health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding are second to none, and formula should only be used if medically necessary. "Breastfeeding is the number one preventive medicine for newborns because of its rich nutrition and health benefits," says Tomlinson.
Research shows breast milk provides nutrients and antibodies that not only decrease the likelihood of adult obesity, but also the risk of childhood cancer and diabetes, high blood pressure, respiratory and ear infections, and other conditions. Moms who breastfeed reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.
NCH's efforts to promote breastfeeding both at the Hospital and throughout the community fall in line with the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global program by the World Health Organization and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) that encourages exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.
Click here to learn more about NCH's community health initiatives and to view the new 2011 Community Benefit Report, which outlines all of the healthcare related benefits and charity care NCH has provided to area residents.