Aviano breastfeeding program creates new cultural norm

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Katherine Windish
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
With only 32 percent of American women choosing to breastfeed rather than bottle-feed their infants at three months old, the United States is the only country in the world where bottle feeding is the cultural norm. However, thanks to the 31st Medical Group's lactation program, women at Aviano Air Base, Italy have created a new standard.

"Breastfeeding is the norm here; 90 percent of Aviano women breastfeed," said Patty Omodt, 31st MDG lactation consultant. "Since 2010, we have built upon the lactation program already in place and have increased the number of breastfeeding mothers significantly."

This increase has numerous benefits. According to a report recently published by the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled "The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis," if 90 percent of American women breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their child's life, the United States would save $13 billion per year in healthcare costs.

"The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding," a document published by the United States Surgeon General, recommends following the UNICEF and World Health Organizations' "10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding," a proposal which states that "every facility providing maternity services and care for newborn infants should:"

1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
2. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within half an hour of birth.
5. Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
7. Practice rooming-in: allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
9. Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.

A report was also released in 2010 concerning the new breastfeeding 2020 targets and goals, in the Maternal, Infant and Child Health category of the "Healthy People 2020" report. Existing targets and goals for breastfeeding were raised for breastfeeding initiation, duration and exclusivity.

Aviano's lactation program had instituted these methods a year before the surgeon general published the report and has met and surpassed nearly all of the 10-year goals in one year.

"It takes all of these components to be successful," said Omodt. "That's what makes Aviano's program exceptional - we employ all the components and it works."

According to an article Omodt wrote for the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, the U.S. military has a unique opportunity to lead the nation to a healthy population. They have the support, the community and the discipline to achieve Healthy People 2020 goals on target.

When Omodt first arrived at the beginning of 2010, she began working to improve the breastfeeding program already in place. Among her many revolutionary new programs, Omodt has worked to educate all care providers, organizing three in-service education opportunities for 31st MDG care providers to attend.

"We need to maintain continuity of care, in spite of the rapid turnovers we face at an overseas base," Omodt said. "We need to make sure the nurses, doctors, midwives and all care providers are on the same page and are able to assist women with any lactation problems a mother might have."

During educational seminars, breastfeeding mothers bring their children to help demonstrate different latching techniques and problems that may arise so the care providers are better able to recognize and assist new mothers.

Omodt has also used social media to more easily communicate with breastfeeding mothers and to help improve base breastfeeding support groups.

"This generation is all about technology," said Omodt. "Mothers are always busy and don't always have time to come to my office for guidance. The best way to communicate in this generation is to use Facebook, e-mail and texting. Mothers and fathers contact me through one of these methods and I'm able to quickly reply to their question by shooting back a quick text or Facebook message."

Social media is also helpful in increasing communication within support groups. The Aviano Breastfeeding Support Group meets only twice per month but the Facebook page is visited daily by most mothers.

"Never underestimate the need for peer support," said Omodt in her report to AMSUS. "Mother- to-mother support is the most powerful weapon we have to combat ignorance and poor advice regarding breastfeeding. Mothers are empowered through knowledge and personal success."

The "Wing Mom" telephone support group is a support group based entirely on this concept. Mothers who have exclusively breastfed for three months or more offer telephone support to a new breastfeeding mother. The Aviano Active Duty and Aviano La Leche League are also available to support breastfeeding mothers.

Some mothers that have moved to other bases have even begun their own breastfeeding support groups. An Aviano mother designed a Facebook site called Breastfeeding Support Group of the Military to help other mothers establish support groups.

"We can make programs like this work at other bases as well," said Omodt. "We could make this an Air Force-wide, nationwide success story. This could work. We could use the success here at Aviano to make our nation healthier."

Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series. The first part can be found at www.aviano.af.mil