Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Breastfeeding Support: The Disconnect from the Hospital to the Pediatrician

I promised a post about the hospital after my third son was born, and I might actually have found some time to sit down and write it. You forget pretty quickly what a time-suck having a newborn is. Everything takes longer, from getting out of the house to doing laundry. Just when everyone's got their shoes on, or just when you've finally found the energy to fold that pile of clothes, oops, baby's hungry! Be ready in 20 minutes (if we're lucky). It goes by so fast, though. He's four weeks old already, if you can believe it (I can't)!

I was very, very impressed with the breastfeeding and normal-birth supportive environment at the hospital where I gave birth. If you read my second and third sons' birth stories, you know that I was very pleased with my treatment. Both were at the Kaiser Foundation Hospital/San Diego Medical Center. Before giving birth to Son #3, I could only hope the hospital experience would be at least as good as it had been when I had Son #2, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it even better. The first improvement, and the one I liked the most, was that they are converting to all private rooms on the postpartum floor. I had a roommate for a few hours after Son #2's birth, and I didn't like the feeling of intrusion (I'm sure she didn't like it either!). The second improvement, and by far the most important, was the amount of breastfeeding training they had given all the maternity nurses.

From the moment my son was born, I truly felt he was under my care, not the hospital's. They were there to help me. They let me hold him and nurse him until I was ready for them to take him to be weighed. They didn't even give him a bath or dress him until I said it was okay (later in the day, in my hospital room!). They didn't take him out of my sight except for the hearing test, and then only for a few minutes. I was encouraged to keep him skin-to-skin. Every nurse who came to my room was able to help me with breastfeeding, armed with up-to-date information. Not one nurse gave me "bad" or "wrong" advice. The most negative thing any nurse said to me (and only if you take it in a negative context) was a fairly neutral, "He's using you as a pacifier!" I didn't exactly take it as discouragement - she didn't say, "Don't become a human pacifier!" - but I still felt it was an unhelpful comment. The nurse on duty both mornings was clearly well-trained in breastfeeding support, even had a lanyard saying as much, and was able to give me very helpful, hands-on advice about positioning. She was very supportive. When I half-complained about how often he was nursing, she said, "He's just doing what he needs to to get your milk in!" No comments about supplementing or hunger. No comments about pacifiers or taking a break. Just a "this is normal," and "you're doing great" attitude. I was very pleased.

When we were getting ready to leave, I had to detach him from my nipple so we could put him in the car seat. He wasn't too happy about this and started to cry piteously. We had a 45-minute drive, and I was so afraid he would scream the entire way. We tentatively asked the person who was helping us get ourselves ready to go if we could have a pacifier to try to calm him. She said they actually didn't have pacifiers, because giving a pacifier that early can interfere with breastfeeding (which is absolutely true!). I was disappointed but happy at the same time. As it turned out, he calmed down after a few minutes and slept the whole way home, so a pacifier wasn't necessary anyway.

Kaiser has a custom-made diaper bag that they give out. It's a very nice, high-quality bag. (We still regularly use the one we got when Son #2 was born, and now we have a new one to use as well!) It doesn't contain anything remotely formula-related. They gave me some samples of Lansinoh lanolin, lots of diapers, baby soap, alcohol wipes (for his umbilical cord), and anything else we wanted to take from the bassinet. They gave me discharge instructions with more breastfeeding information. And, a really nice baby blanket! No pacifiers, no formula samples, no bottles.

I don't know how I would have felt about the push for breastfeeding if I had not gone in intending to breastfeed. Perhaps it would have felt too pressuring, or I would have felt ashamed if I decided not to breastfeed, but I don't know. I'm actually curious to know how other new mothers feel about the way breastfeeding is presented there. I'm sure that my nurse-midwife and the maternity nurses all got the vibe from me pretty quickly that, (a) I was going to breastfeed, and (b) I pretty much knew what I was doing.

I fully intend to write to the hospital expressing my delight about my experiences. But I also intend to write to the Kaiser general offices about my disappointment upon taking my newborn son to the pediatrician for his 3-day checkup.

The hospital was so supportive of breastfeeding, and the OB/GYN offices were full of breastfeeding literature and posters (and no references to formula), and so I naturally assumed that that breastfeeding-supportive environment should also continue into the pediatric offices.

The breastfeeding support that had so impressed me through my pregnancy and delivery completely evaporated when I entered the pediatrician's office. The initial form I was given to fill out asked me if I was feeding my baby formula in such a way that I felt like I ought to be. The nurse asked how often he was feeding, and when I told her it had been basically nonstop, she said, "Oh, getting sore already, Mama?" The doctor informed me that breastfed babies needed Vitamin D supplementation (which is true, according to the latest research), but that if I started giving formula, and at least 50% of his diet was formula, then I didn't have to give extra Vitamin D anymore. What? Throwing around the words "formula" and "supplementation" next to a mother who had had as rough a second day home as I did might have been enough to drive her to start using formula right away, since the doctor had implied it was "okay." (That's not to say it isn't "okay" to use formula if that's what you need to do. It's just that it is not supportive of breastfeeding to imply that formula would be in any way "better" than breastmilk.)

At the two-week checkup, upon seeing that my son had gained over two pounds in two weeks, the doctor (a different one this time) said, "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it!" So that, at least, was encouraging. But I wouldn't have made it two weeks if I wasn't me, in the sense that I was already well-educated and gung-ho about nursing my babies. I wouldn't have made it two days if I wasn't me. I get the feeling that the pediatricians at Kaiser are fairly autonomous, so support for breastfeeding (and knowledge about breastfeeding) will vary from doctor to doctor. I happen to very much like and respect the doctor I usually take my kids to there, the one I saw at the two-week appointment. The doctor I saw at the first appointment was very personable and friendly, but his breastfeeding support was not good. One positive comment I have, though, is that when my baby turned out to have jaundice, they didn't jump right to suggesting formula supplementation to clear the bilirubin; all of the doctors (three!) I saw over those few days just said, "Feed, feed, feed!" So there was some trust in breastfeeding!

A few days ago, Kaiser sent me a survey asking me to rate my experience at the hospital. I gave them very good marks. It is clear that breastfeeding initiation and continuation is very important to them, as several of the questions on the survey asked about the breastfeeding education and support offered during prenatal visits and in the hospital.

If they are truly so invested in Kaiser members breastfeeding their babies (as well they should be), then that support needs to continue into the pediatric offices. They need to have lactation consultants on staff. They need to train the pediatrics nurses in basic breastfeeding education, just as they did for the postpartum nurses. And they should insist on a uniform attitude toward breastfeeding among their pediatricians and possibly offer basic breastfeeding classes to the MDs, so that mothers who come in desperate for help will be able to get the support they desire.

For those who are unfamiliar with Kaiser Permanente, a brief explanation so this post will make sense: Kaiser Permanente is an HMO health insurance plan. If you are a member of Kaiser, all of your healthcare needs are attended to within the Kaiser system, which includes general practitioners, specialists, hospitals, physical therapy, pharmacy, etc.

It seems to me that if Kaiser as a whole has a philosophy of care, such as with breastfeeding support, then that philosophy should carry over from practitioner to practitioner, from prenatal care all the way through to pediatrics. If enough mothers write in with my above suggestions, maybe we will continue to see positive change throughout the Kaiser system.

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