Baby-Friendly Practices Changing Lives in Rural Mississippi
Sunflower County, Mississippi, is not a place where one would expect to see rapid social change. Home to roughly 30,000 people in rural Mississippi, it is steeped in its heritage and traditions.
Yet, in the past few years, families in Sunflower County have witnessed a revolution of sorts – at least as it relates to the experiences of new mothers and their babies in the precious first days of life – thanks to the advent of Baby-Friendly practices at the county’s only birthing facility, South Sunflower County Hospital, located in Indianola, Mississippi.
An Insurer's Perspective
The leaders at South Sunflower took up the challenge to pursue Baby-Friendly designation in 2015 with support from CHAMPS, based on a recommendation from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi (BCBSMS), the state’s largest private health insurer.
Sarah Broom, MD, is Medical Director for BCBSMS and a strong advocate for Baby-Friendly practices and other evidence-based maternity quality measures.
“The evidence shows that breastfeeding is linked to improved outcomes,” she says. “We have some serious healthcare issues in our state – childhood obesity, diabetes, maternal morbidity and mortality, breast cancer – and we knew increased breastfeeding could have a positive impact in these areas. So, our management made the bold and important decision that we were going to encourage a commitment to the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative among our network hospitals.”
A Task Force Leader's Perspective
The staff at South Sunflower was up for the challenge.
Betsy Dawson, CFNP, led the Baby-Friendly Task Force for the hospital.
“Educating moms on breastfeeding and taking care of their babies is a passion of mine,” she says. “When Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi discussed Baby-Friendly with us, along with the opportunity to work with CHAMPS, of course, we jumped on it. This is the town where I was raised and this is the town where I’m raising my children. I wanted to do everything I could to encourage this and educate our moms here.”
A Proud Moment for the Hospital
After working toward Baby-Friendly designation for the past few years, the staff at the hospital celebrated the fruits of their efforts by achieving Baby-Friendly status in March 2018. To understand the importance of this accomplishment to the staff and administration, one need only visit the hospital’s website, where the Baby-Friendly achievement was the primary story on the homepage even two months later (see image right).
As Baby-Friendly USA approaches the once seemingly unattainable milestone of 1,000,000 babies born each year in Baby-Friendly facilities in the US, South Sunflower’s approximately 300 births per year may seem like a drop in the ocean. But the dedicated professionals who work in the hospital’s maternity ward believe Baby-Friendly practices are helping to change their world.
A Frontline Nurse's Perspective
Jennifer Layton, RN, is one of those believers. She is on the frontline of maternity care at South Sunflower.
“Down the road, I think we’re going to see a closer family, a closer-knit mother-child bond,” she says. "We have grandmothers and extended families taking care of babies and moms don’t have the attachment with their babies. I think this will bring moms closer to their children. We’re going to see more maternal attachment and we’re going to see the family come back in our community.”
A Mother's Perspective
These sentiments are echoed and the changes are much appreciated by South Sunflower’s recent patients.
Tina Bennett is one of them. She delivered her first child, Thomas, in January 2015, before the hospital began changing to Baby-Friendly practices. Her second son, Lucas, was born there in March 2018, the month the hospital achieved Baby-Friendly status. So, Tina knows first-hand the impact of the changes they’ve made. Her plan to breastfeed her first child didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. But her experience with her second child was completely different.
“I really loved it the second time because I didn’t have to worry about what was going on when he was away from me – because he was never away from me. I really liked that,” she says. “I was also more educated on what to expect when it came to breastfeeding and I really wanted to breastfeed. So, I felt more comfortable doing it from the get-go.”
Tiesha Lee delivered her daughter Londynn, her second child, in 2017 at South Sunflower when the hospital had started implementing Baby-Friendly practices. Her first child, a son, Judeyion, was formula-fed and she was planning to do the same with her daughter. But she left the hospital as an enthusiastic breastfeeding mom.
“After I had her, they asked me, did I want to try to breastfeed,” she says. “I said no, I wanted to bottle feed. But she didn’t take to the bottle. We tried for two days to get her to take the bottle. So, they said again, why don’t you try your breast. The moment I tried it, she latched on, no problem. It’s like she knew what she wanted. So that’s how I ended up breastfeeding. Everything I needed to know about breastfeeding, they helped me 100 percent. I’m glad I did it because there’s a lot of benefits from it.”
A Changing Culture
Best of all, Baby-Friendly practices seem to be helping to change the culture in Sunflower County related to breastfeeding. Data from the Indianola WIC provided by the Mississippi Department of Health reveal that as recently as 2014, breastfeeding initiation rates in the county were less than 10%. In 2017, those rates had risen to over 50%. For a state that has consistently ranked among the worst in health outcomes in recent years, this is good news indeed.