DeKalb Medical Earns Baby Friendly Designation

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In 2014, DeKalb Medical became the first hospital in Georgia to achieve a Baby Friendly designation and in doing so, earned a 5-STAR Hospital Recognition from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

According to John A. Shelton Jr., FACHE, president and chief executive officer of DeKalb Medical, which is located in Decatur, Ga., in order to achieve Baby Friendly, you must first accomplish 10 steps, each of which is worth two stars.

Because it’s a two-year process, an organization has to be seriously committed to the goal, he added.

“From an organization perspective, it’s something that you have to really be focused on and prioritize everything you want to do to achieve it within that timeframe. It’s very, very difficult. That’s our staff that’s working with our obstetricians and just going down the list of everything you have to accomplish to achieve the designation.”

Emphasizing bonding and breastfeeding

Generally speaking, a hospital must rethink its entire approach to caring for mothers and their babies if it’s going to earn the Baby Friendly designation. Shelton said that Baby Friendly is centered on two ideas: mother-baby bonding and breastfeeding.

A hospital must first formulate a written breastfeeding policy that is clearly communicated with the staff. It then has to train all of its staff on the skills needed to implement that policy.

Pregnant females must be informed and educated about the benefits and management of breastfeeding. This education involves teaching them about maintaining lactation and ensuring that they’re only giving the baby breast milk. In fact, the goal is to avoid giving infants any food or drink apart from breast milk while they’re at DeKalb.

Furthermore, since the program encourages breastfeeding on demand, artificial nipples or pacifiers are not handed out.

A hospital must also redesign its patient rooms for the purpose of rooming in. Rooming in is where babies and mothers are kept in the same room, so they’re together 24 hours a day after the child is born.

Finally, a hospital has to establish a breastfeeding support group to connect and counsel mothers upon discharge from the hospital.

“We had started ‘rooming in’ before we began this initiative,” Shelton said. “Outside of that we had not formally done the other nine steps that it takes. It’s just quite a commitment to be able to do that and to do it effectively. Once they understood the true benefits it provides for the mother and the baby, the staff readily accepted it.”

Giving individualized attention to each mother and baby

Because DeKalb has the unique distinction of being the first hospital to achieve a Baby Friendly program in Georgia, the door to many productive partnerships has been opened, Shelton said.

Almost immediately after receiving the Baby Friendly designation, an extremely busy OB/GYN group and a competing hospital both made the decision to relocate their practices to DeKalb.

“So obviously, that practice saw the great benefit and the commitment that we had made institutionally to our OB/GYN service line,” Shelton said. “And we’re right now getting interest from other groups as well.”

Another discovery produced by the program was how many women within the community were actually looking for alternative ways for childbirth as opposed to the traditional ways.

“We have achieved 95 percent of our moms who want to exclusively breastfeed and are able to do so, which is an extremely high percentage,” Shelton said.

To meet this demand, DeKalb has hired lactation specialists who educate mothers on various breastfeeding techniques. They work around the clock with the mothers, Shelton said, and consider education to be a major component of the program.

“Attention is also more specialized and individualized to each mother,” he added.

Understanding the commitment needed for the program

Shelton takes little credit for the success of the Baby Friendly program, instead redirecting praise to his OB/GYN team.

“It was really the product of some of our OB/GYNs seeing great benefit in this,” he said. “The staff understood it and stressed that they really wanted to give it a go.”

The administrative staff also had to be onboard, he added, since some products are no longer free to the hospital under the program, such as formulary.

DeKalb’s goals for the Baby Friendly program going forward are focused on marketing. The community needs to know about this program, Shelton said, and they need to know about the hospital’s commitment to it.

For those organizations who are interested in establishing their own Baby Friendly initiatives, he advises caution in developing it and communication in attaining buy-in from the staff.

“Before agreeing to move in that direction, I would clearly understand the commitments that are going to be required and understand that there’s got to be a strong collaboration between the physicians, the staff, and the administration. You cannot accomplish this with only one of those parties pushing it.”

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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