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Giving mothers and babies a healthy start BREAST-FEEDING RATES
Culpeper Regional Hospital's emphasis on breast-feeding has earned it the title, Baby Friendly

 Ella Keelyn Bowles was born on Feb. 10 at Culpeper Regional Hospital, where the maternity ward has undergone 'a complete change.'
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Date published: 2/22/2009


The darkened nursery at Culpeper Regional Hospital is symbolic of the importance that the hospital places on breast-feeding.

Culpeper recognizes that mothers are more likely to breast-feed their newborns if there is continuous contact between the two. So it encourages "rooming-in," where babies stay with their mothers rather than go to the nursery.

"We don't really staff the nursery unless we have a sick baby," said Cindy Curtis, registered nurse and head of the hospital's lactation department.

Culpeper's emphasis on breast-feeding has helped it earn the title "Baby Friendly" from the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

In December, the two health organizations included Culpeper among 19,000 Baby Friendly hospitals worldwide. It's one of 76 hospitals in the U.S. to earn that distinction, and the first in Virginia.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative recognizes hospitals that give mothers the "information, confidence and skills" to nurse their babies, according to the organizations.

Breast-fed infants receive antibodies which protect against infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast-feeding also is cheaper than formula.


Because it emphasizes breast-feeding, Culpeper's maternity service is different than other hospitals'. "A complete change," is how Curtis described it.

Curtis said that when she started at Culpeper 19 years ago, newborns were placed under a warmer in the nursery for four hours. Babies received sterile water from a bottle for their first feeding.

"It was almost, 'Hi, here's your baby, bye,'" Curtis said.

Today, the hospital averages 42 births a month and has changed almost every step in the birth process, all with the goal of encouraging breast-feeding, Curtis said.

Christy Escher, a Fredericksburg doula, said one of her clients, a proponent of natural childbirth and breast-feeding, will deliver at Culpeper in May.

"Everything that she wanted and everything that was important to her, they talked about without her even having to bring it up," Escher said.

For example:

Culpeper sponsors prenatal classes where pregnant women learn the importance of breast-feeding and how to do it.

One of its brochures lists 14 problems associated with formula-feeding, including the increased risk of allergies, asthma and diarrhea for the baby.

Veronica Bowles, 29, of Brandy Station, attended a breast-feeding class there in January. She returned to the hospital Feb. 10 to deliver Ella, her first child.

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About 77 percent of U.S. women breast-fed their newborn babies in 2005-2006, according to a report last year from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This number is up from 60 percent in 1993-1994.

The report also said:

Women with higher incomes are more likely to breast-feed than women with lower incomes. Women 30-and-older are more likely to breast-feed than younger women.

About 32 percent of women are still breast-feeding when their babies are 6 months old.

--Jim Hall

Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg practices many of the tenets of the program but has no plans to apply for Baby Friendly status, a spokeswoman said.

The hospital's lactation department encourages women to breast-feed and assists them before and after their deliveries, said Kathleen Allenbaugh, spokeswoman.

Mothers and babies can "room-in," if the mother wants.

"Some mothers choose to put their babies in the nurseries at night. That's the mother's choice," Allenbaugh said.

Mary Washington also accepts free formula and bottles from manufacturers. And the hospital gives away free formula bags from suppliers.

-Jim Hall