News & Views

Feature Story

Catching On to Latching On: A Formula for Breastfeeding Success

Comprehensive support, education and resources for new moms and babies drive Kaiser Permanente’s high breastfeeding rates.

August 24, 2017

TOPICS: Expert Medicine | REGIONS: National | KEYWORDS: Breastfeeding, childbirth, maternity



mother laying down with newborn resting on her chest New mom Ashley Berry bonds with her newborn

You’ve just given birth to a precious and very hungry baby. The thought of breastfeeding this surprisingly vocal human being may be more than a little daunting, especially when people all around you are telling you it’s the most natural thing in the world.

After expectant mom Ashley Berry decided she wanted to breastfeed her newborn, her care team at Kaiser Permanente supported her by providing her with educational materials at prenatal appointments and encouraging her to attend a breastfeeding class. Once her baby boy was born, nurses and lactation consultants stopped by her room regularly to see how breastfeeding was progressing.

“They helped me tremendously with getting the baby to latch, which took time and patience,” said Berry. “They also gave me useful information about body mechanics to make the experience more comfortable for both me and my baby.”

The decision to breastfeed is highly personal and may not be possible for all women for a range of personal and medical reasons. But whatever you decide, there’s plenty of support for you at Kaiser Permanente.

“Our goal is to support mothers throughout their pregnancy and newborn experience,” said Tracy Flanagan, MD, an ob-gyn who is Kaiser Permanente’s clinical lead for Maternity and Reproductive Health. “Because of our integrated care model, we’re able to look at breastfeeding across the continuum of care. That means support comes from the whole maternity team, starting with the mother’s doctor, nurse practitioner or midwife, extending to the nurses and lactation consultants who care for her in the hospital, and continuing in the baby’s pediatrician’s office.”

Leading the way in encouraging — and supporting — exclusive breastfeeding

Among maternal and child health experts, breastfeeding is seen as the optimal choice for nourishing baby, providing a multitude of health benefits for the child as well as the mother. In fact, exclusive breastfeeding of newborns during their hospital stay is one measure used to evaluate hospital quality by the Joint Commission, an independent, not-for-profit organization that accredits nearly 21,000 health care organizations in the United States.

The national average for exclusive breastfeeding is 53 percent, according to the Joint Commission. But at Kaiser Permanente, 77 percent of babies born during 2016 were exclusively breastfed during their hospital stay. Rates were even higher in our Northern California and Northwest regions, reaching 79  and 85 percent respectively.

Kaiser Permanente’s breastfeeding success reflects concerted efforts at many levels. Programs vary from state to state, but all are aimed at making the experience more fulfilling and stress-free for moms and babies.

  • Breastfeeding support begins before the baby is born. At prenatal appointments, providers ask pregnant women about their plans, address their concerns, and provide information and referrals to prenatal breastfeeding classes. Throughout the hospital stay, nurses offer coaching and advice, and at many facilities, lactation consultants are available to help moms who are having difficulty.
  • Support for new families continues after discharge. In Kaiser Permanente’s Colorado and Georgia regions, moms and babies can receive home visits from nurse practitioners, who not only provide breastfeeding consultation but also check in on their general health. Kaiser Permanente Hawaii members who live in more remote areas can take advantage of video lactation consultations. Breastfeeding support groups in all of our regions assure new moms they’re not alone.
  • Provider training is another component of Kaiser Permanente’s formula for breastfeeding success. In our Northern California Region, all nurses who care for new moms receive training from lactation consultants. Physician and nurse leaders meet regularly with medical and nursing staff to review breastfeeding outcomes and glean best practices that can be shared more broadly. In the Northwest Region, all staff who support women and children are required to take a 15-hour breastfeeding course.

“At Kaiser Permanente, our physicians, nurses and specialists work together to support new moms who make the choice to breastfeed,” said Patrick Courneya, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer for Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals. “Our high breastfeeding rates show that by embedding breastfeeding education, support and best practices throughout our care settings and at all stages of pregnancy, birth and beyond, we are meeting moms where they are in their breastfeeding journey and helping them achieve their goals.”

A mother’s choice

Now three months postpartum, Berry says breastfeeding is going smoothly for her and her baby. Her Kaiser Permanente lactation consultant continues to be available when she needs additional support, and Berry plans to continue breastfeeding as long as she can.

“Bonding with my baby while breastfeeding is one of the most precious times,” she said. “The way he looks up at me and cuddles up close when he feeds … there is nothing like it.”