By SEAN ROWLEY
W.W. Hastings Hospital has joined the “Ban the Bag” initiative and agreed to discontinue the practice of sending new mothers home with commercial formula discharge bags.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health and Maternal and Child Health Service announced Tuesday that Hastings and six other hospitals will be taking part, in an effort to encourage breastfeeding of newborns. With 28 institutions now in the program, half of Oklahoma’s hospitals are participating.
“W.W. Hastings Hospital has begun the process of obtaining a ‘Baby-Friendly’ designation, and as part of our commitment to encourage improved health by breastfeeding, we are implementing the ‘Ban the Bag’ initiative,” said Brian Hail, Hastings CEO. “By not promoting infant formula in bags of free formula to new mothers, we know we are helping assure the success of our patients’ breastfeeding efforts at home. As an alternative, we are providing our patients with a diaper bag containing the same kinds of items typically included by the formula companies so that we continue to meet our patients’ expectations.”
Rhode Island and Massachusetts hospitals voluntarily banned gift bags with formula in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and some U.S. cities are “bag free.”
“Ban the Bag” is a nationwide effort to increase breastfeeding rates by ending hospital promotion of brand name formulas, which studies indicate reduces breastfeeding rates. Mothers who encounter problems while breastfeeding are more likely to use formula supplied by hospitals than to seek assistance.
The OSDH reports that several Oklahoma hospitals encourage breastfeeding through other measures, like staff training and maximizing contact between mothers and infants, which includes rooming newborns with their mothers.
Such measures are credited for increasing Oklahoma’s breastfeeding rates in four of five categories tracked in the Breastfeeding Report Card released annually by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The 2013 study, reporting on babies born in 2010, show that Oklahoma improved from 41st to 25th in exclusive breastfeeding at 3 months of age, and from 45th to 24th at 6 months. Oklahoma also improved in breastfeeding initiation from 39th to 31st and in any breastfeeding at 6 months from 43rd to 38th.
“We are moving in the right direction,” said Dr. Edd Rhoades, interim director of the OSDH Maternal and Child Health Service, in a press release. “It has taken a desire to improve outcomes and a focused effort at multiple levels. The fact that Oklahoma has its first ‘Baby-Friendly’ hospital, Claremore Indian Hospital, and that many other hospitals are working to achieve this designation, reflects the recognition that breastfeeding is an important factor in our state’s health.”
Carrie Rigsby, registered nurse at Hastings, said the hospital wants to earn a ‘Baby Friendly’ designation from the OSDH.
“It is awarded to hospitals that provide an optimal level of care and encourage breastfeeding practices,” Rigsby said. “‘Ban the Bag’ is part of the process. Our facility initiated this approximately one year ago and the response has been well-received. Our patients are getting free bags, infant onesies and a water bottle, and these are branded with a new logo.”
Rigsby added that physicians and nurses are receiving extensive up-to-date training concerning breastfeeding.
“Our dedicated professional staff is committed to supporting families throughout the birth process, with education beginning in the prenatal phase and carried on through delivery and beyond,” she said. “Our goal is to increase breastfeeding rates and better prepare families when they go home with their new baby.”
Breastfeeding is one of several steps the OSDH encourages to reduce infant mortality. Others include smoking cessation, early prenatal care, carrying full-term, safe sleep spaces for babies, correct installation of child safety seats, recognizing and getting assistance for postpartum depression, and never shaking a baby.
“Oklahoma hospitals are working to provide quality care to families and joining the ‘Ban the Bag’ project is a step that sends a strong message to everyone,” Becky Mannel, project leader for the Oklahoma Hospital Breastfeeding Education Project, said in the release. “We hope more hospitals will join this effort until Oklahoma is a ‘bag-free’ state.”
The project is sponsored by the OSDH under the “Preparing for a Lifetime, It’s Everyone’s Responsibility” initiative to minimize infant deaths in Oklahoma.