Black Maternal Health

Part: 5

NYC Targets Black Women for Breastfeeding

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Public hospitals in New York City are marketing breastfeeding directly to their patients, a third of whom are African American. The plan is part of a goal to obtain official "Baby Friendly" designations for 11 hospitals.

Page 2 of 2

More Women Dying During Pregnancy

First time breastfeeding baby in the hospitalAt the same time, the number of women dying during pregnancy, a hallmark indicator of maternal health in a country, is bleak. While nationally the rate of maternal deaths is 13 per 100,000 live births, among black women in New York City in 2008 that rate was 78 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, according to Vital Statistics data released in January. A federal goal to reduce maternal morality in the United States to 3.3 deaths per 100,000 live births is grossly missed.

Maternal mortality among black women in New York is quadruple the maternal death rate in California, which has gained a lot of press for its striking rise in Cesarean section-related maternal deaths.

A link between maternal mortality and breastfeeding may seem dubious, but it is not.

"Fifty percent of women who died in pregnancy had chronic problems, cardiac disease and hypertension," said Deborah Kaplan, New York City's assistant commissioner of the Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health. "Breastfeeding can reduce the risks of some of these conditions later in life. The risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease is higher among women who use bottle formula."

For the past several years, New York health department officials have actively promoted breastfeeding as a part of the mayor's effort to support healthy lifestyles and prevent disease.

In 2007 and 2008, the city health department provided funding for its public hospitals to launch its effort to go Baby Friendly and to hire a breastfeeding coordinator at each acute care hospital. These coordinators promote breastfeeding in wards and measure program success. After 2008, the hospital network took on the funding of the Baby Friendly effort.

Busting the Myth

"New York will bust the myth that going Baby Friendly is an impossible task," said Trish MacEnroe, director of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative USA, based in East Sandwich, Mass. "If you can go Baby Friendly in New York, with different races, languages and cultures, and with hospitals being fiscally challenged, that sends a powerful message to all hospitals that breastfeeding is an achievement you can reach."

In the United States, 86 hospitals and birthing centers are officially Baby Friendly; many of the awarded facilities predominantly serve white women. California has the most awards with 25 Baby Friendly hospitals and centers. Now Los Angeles public hospitals, with their diverse racial cast of mothers, are on board to becoming Baby Friendly, MacEnroe said

New York's public hospitals can boast that Harlem Hospital earned the Baby Friendly award in 2008, becoming the first in New York City and the second in the state to receive the designation. Lincoln Hospital is expected to join it soon.

Vierczhaleck says reducing the preference for bottle formula is the biggest challenge.

"Formula companies are really smart. Some mothers say they get cases of free formula delivered to their house," she said. "Where are they getting their names from? Probably baby registries."

Vierczhaleck helped write the hospital network's breastfeeding policy that encourages nurses, doctors and breastfeeding coordinators to be sensitive to the varying beliefs mothers have about breastfeeding.

Mercardo, of Lincoln Hospital, says breastfeeding and nutrition was not an integral part of his medical training.

"That was a cultural change for our staff," said the Bronx-born doctor. "Some had children and were accustomed to bottle feeding."

Malena Amusa is a New York-based reporter completing a book about her adventures in Delhi.

For more information:

Baby-Friendly USA

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Few U.S. Moms Meet Six-Month Breastfeeding Goal

Reproductive Health

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Maternity Center Showcases Full-Service Approach


Lawmakers Join Push to Close Maternal Health Gaps


Series Overview

Black Maternal Health: A Legacy and a Future

Part: 19

U.S. Health Bills Show C-Sections Cut Two Ways

Part: 18

California Moms Live in Breastfeeding Haven

Part: 17

Lactation Breaks, Always Commendable, Are Now Law

Part: 16

Dr. Lu Puts 'M' Back in Maternal, Child Care

Part: 15

NYC Targets Black Women for Breastfeeding

Part: 14

Michelle Obama Urged to Speak Out for Breastfeeding

Part: 13

Tonya Lewis Lee Aims to Save Nation's Babies

Part: 12

Black Infant Mortality Points to Moms' Crying Need

Part: 11

Lawmakers Join Push to Close Maternal Health Gaps

Part: 10

Industry, Feds Entice Black Mothers to Bottle Feed

Part: 9

Midwives Fight AMA to Provide Black Maternal Care

Part: 7

Breastfeeding Not for You? Sisters, Listen Up

Part: 6

U.S. Black Maternal Hazards Tied to Social Stress

Part: 5

Black Fathers Opening Up About All That Love

Part: 4

Pregnant? Your Job Is To Take Care of Yourself

Part: 3

Maternity Center Showcases Full-Service Approach

Part: 2

Kindness RX Offered to Pregnant Black Women

Part: 1

Studies Plumb Depths of Black Maternal Health Woes