After a five-year effort to boost its support of breastfeeding, Rush University Medical Center has obtained a prestigious "baby-friendly" designation by a World Health Organization-affiliated institution. Rush is only the fourth hospital in Chicago and the 17th in Illinois to earn the Baby-Friendly USA accolade.
(The others in the city are Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, Advocate Trinity Hospital and Presence St. Joseph Hospital. Here's a full list of the more than 400 baby-friendly hospitals nationwide.)
With 2,275 deliveries in 2015, Rush isn't the busiest labor and delivery hospital in the Chicago area by a long shot. That designation falls to Northwestern Memorial's Prentice Women's Hospital, which notched 12,240 deliveries in 2015, per the Illinois Health Facilities & Services Review Board. Two suburban hospitals—Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge and Oak Lawn's Advocate Christ Medical Center—delivered the second- and third-most babies, respectively, with 4,250 and 3,859. None of those hospitals has been accredited by Baby-Friendly USA.
As for why they're not on the list, spokespeople for Christ and Lutheran General said their hospitals were discussing the certification. Andrea Miller, director of Christ's Women & Infants Center, says the hospital provides certified lactation consultants and outpatient consultants to moms who have left the hospital.
A spokesperson from Prentice declined to comment.
The baby-friendly designation is important, according to Rush experts, because a wide range of health organizations recommend long-term breastfeeding for optimal child health. But many Illinois moms fail to do so because they aren't getting the support they need, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The problem, compounded by research that shows obesity can impede breastfeeding, is so severe that Rush is considering establishing an outpatient center dedicated to helping nursing moms after they leave the hospital, says Paula Meier, director of clinical research and lactation at Rush's neonatal intensive care unit.
The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend babies breastfeed exclusively for six months and continue to breastfeed in conjunction with other food for at least one year.
Most mothers in Illinois, however, are not meeting those recommendations, according to a CDC study published in August. Though more than 81 percent of Illinois moms start breastfeeding, only 52.5 percent are still doing so at six months—and only 25.5 percent are breastfeeding exclusively. By 12 months, less than 30 percent of moms are still breastfeeding.
"People argue (the attrition) is because women are insecure in their ability to make enough milk, or they have to go back to work, or any number of societal reasons," says Meier. "But when you really examine the science behind the mammary glands, you understand it's one of the most enormous changes for the body system."
She says many women are not given the basic information and tools they need to ensure their new babies are breastfeeding frequently enough to stimulate adequate milk production and prevent mothers from switching to or supplementing with formula.