It has long been recognized that breastfeeding plays a critical role in maternal and baby health. Breastfeeding can protect babies from infections and illness, and breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma or become obese. Mothers who nurse are less likely to develop ovarian cancer, breast cancer or diabetes. Living Healthy in Washington County (LHWC), as part of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP), recognizes the importance of supporting nursing mothers. LHWC has focused on breastfeeding support initiatives since the first round of SHIP funding in 2009, with the establishment of the Washington County Breastfeeding Coalition. During the current round of SHIP, the coalition assisted LHWC by circulating various partner project opportunities to contacts within the county, resulting in several achievements.
LHWC supports breastfeeding through two SHIP strategy areas – Health Care and Worksite Wellness. Measureable progress has been made in each of these areas to the great benefit of mothers, babies and families in the county.
Breastfeeding Support in Health Care Settings
LHWC has provided technical assistance to eight health care clinics seeking to support breastfeeding patients. The result of these partner projects was a toolkit distributed to clinics to help implement breastfeeding supports. The toolkits emphasize the importance of nursing and provide a collection of resources for clinics to offer to nursing patients. Toolkits have been distributed with the help of coalition members.
In addition to advances made in health care clinics throughout the county, the Breastfeeding Coalition worked with LHWC to achieve gold-level Breastfeeding Friendly Health Department status from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) for the Washington County Department of Public Health and Environment. The designation signals a dedication to helping shape the local environment to better support and promote breastfeeding. To achieve Breastfeeding Friendly status, applicants must show their work from the past five years that meets a framework of conditions set forth by MDH. Organizations that have accomplished all required steps are awarded the gold-level designation.
Breastfeeding Support in Worksites
LHWC provided technical assistance to three health care settings in establishing policy, system and environment changes that made breastfeeding easier for their nursing employees. Lakeview Hospital, Stillwater Medical Group and Central Pediatrics in Woodbury all took steps to develop employee breastfeeding policies, and establish or make improvements to employee lactation rooms. Providing hospital grade breast pumps and comfortable chairs, as well as creating a designated space were supported by SHIP funds. Washington County will create a sign-out process that will allow county employees to check out a nursing mother’s support bag. The bag is designed with helpful items for successful breastfeeding in the workplace. The sign-out process and support bags are expected to start early 2017.
Breastfeeding Support in the Future
Currently, LHWC is helping with the development of a county employee breastfeeding policy. This policy follows the MDH framework and model set by the Department of Public Health and Environment’s Breastfeeding Support and Promotion policy.
SHIP focuses on many strategy areas in order to achieve better health together with Minnesotans of all ages. In Washington County, these strategy areas include healthy schools, worksite wellness, health care, and communities.
Living Healthy in Washington County is part of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, Minnesota Department of Health.