UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Among Leaders in California on Breastfeeding Rates

UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital has one of the highest rates of exclusive breastfeeding in California, according to a new report by the state Department of Public Health.

In 2012, more than 93 percent of babies born at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital were exclusively breastfeeding – fed only breast milk and no formula – the highest in San Francisco and fifth in the state. That number is up from 90.2 percent in 2011.  

“Taking a look at the strides we’ve made, it’s truly phenomenal,” said Sharon Wiener, RN, MPH, a certified nurse midwife at UCSF Women's Health Center and a leader of the Lactation Task Force Committee. “But there is still more work to be done.”

Breastfeeding is known to offer wide-ranging preventive health benefits for babies, reducing their risk for infections and allergies, and providing the perfect balance of nutrients to help infants grow into strong and healthy toddlers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months for maximum health benefits, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.  

The UCSF Department of Maternal-Fetal Medicine has been building a robust lactation service for the last 15 years, implementing a lactation task force, hiring certified lactation consultants and educating obstetricians, pediatricians, midwives, residents and nurses to create a climate of support that is passed down to the patient.

Skin to skin contact is considered a critical component for successful breastfeeding initiation and bonding between mother and baby. UCSF encourages skin to skin contact after birth, including in the operating room following a Cesarean section. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C-sections make up 32.8 percent of births in the United States, and studies have shown that breastfeeding rates are lower among babies born by C-section compared with babies born vaginally.  

“We consistently evaluate the breastfeeding research in order to know how best to change clinical behaviors on the unit. Historically we have done routine procedures that can undermine breastfeeding. Now we strive to promote procedures that are backed up with research,“ said Wiener.

Educating Nurses and Residents as Lactation Resources

The Lactation Task Force, which meets monthly, has concentrated on educating nurses to become a key resource for new breastfeeding mothers. 

Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding protects infants against a variety of diseases and conditions such as:

  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhea
  • Pneumonia, wheezing and bronchiolitis
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Other bacterial and viral infections, such as meningitis
  • Late-onset sepsis in preterm infants
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Lymphoma, leukemia and Hodgkins disease
  • Childhood overweight and obesity

Maternal health benefits include:

  • Uterus returning to pre-pregnancy size more quickly
  • Return of menstruation delayed to help keep iron in the mother's body
  • Earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight
  • Stronger bones

  • Decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

All of the nurses are trained in up-to-date breastfeeding assistance and all new nurses spend a day following a lactation specialist, a certification that requires more than 1,000 hours working with individual breastfeeding moms and babies. While all new mothers have the opportunity to have a one-on-one visit with a lactation specialist, it is often unnecessary because of the skilled assistance provided by the nurses.

Residents in obstetrics and pediatrics must also attend a lecture on breastfeeding, and the intensive care nursery is staffed with its own lactation consultant.

Support for breastfeeding continues once a new mom has left the hospital.

Clinicians and lactation specialists work closely to evaluate patients and provide them with the necessary interventions, whether that means providing medical care or helping with the transition to pumping when a woman goes back to work.

“A patient may come in to see a lactation consultant because the baby is having trouble latching, but also end up seeing me to be evaluated for different conditions, like an infection or cracked nipples that need more medical support rather than lactation support,” said Wiener. “The Lactation Task Force is about coordination, education and support of each other and our patients.”