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CA Hospitals Promote Breastfeeding Programs

Doug Desjardins for HealthLeaders Media, March 2, 2011

Hospital programs that encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies are becoming more popular in California, helped in part by numerous studies that show babies who are breastfed tend to grow up healthier. But those programs are also a good selling point for hospitals at a time when the recession has driven birth rates to their lowest level since 1990.

One of the most innovative programs was launched by the UC San Diego Medical Center in 2008 and was expanded last month. The Supporting Premature Infant Nutrition (SPIN) program specializes in helping mothers to breastfeed babies born prematurely or at a birth weight of 3 pounds or less.

“Human breast milk provides several benefits for our most vulnerable population of patients, including an increase in I.Q., stronger growth and a decreased rate of infection and intestinal complications like necrotizing enterocolitis, which dropped from a rate of 6 percent to under 2 percent with the SPIN program,” said Lisa Stellwagen, MD, the program's lactation director.

Stellwagen said the program at UC San Diego serves about 100 mothers and their families each year. Last month, the hospital upgraded the online component of SPIN to reach more mothers with a new series of instructional videos on its Web site that feature breastfeeding tips and other helpful tools.

“We’re a teaching hospital so we have an obligation to share our knowledge,” said Stellwagen. “This way, if a mother on the East Coast has a premature baby and has problems breastfeeding, she can go to our Web site for help. Stellwagen said most of the inquiries UC San Diego receives online are from other hospitals interested in setting up their own programs.

While most mothers don’t know if they’re going to give birth prematurely – unless they have a history of premature births or are giving birth to triplets - knowing that a hospital is equipped with a program like SPIN is an added attraction for them to use UC San Diego Medical Center.

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