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By Leonna Heuring/Standard Democrat

While it’s still too early for hard statistics, Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston is seeing an impact following the recent implementation of breastfeeding promotion and education to decrease the region’s infant mortality rate.

In July 2016, Missouri Delta Medical Center obtained a two-year grant through the Missouri Foundation for Health as part of the project to decrease infant mortality. The six counties that make up Missouri’s Bootheel along with St. Louis have the highest infant mortality rates in the state.

“The goal is to focus on something to help decrease the infant mortality rate, which is the number of baby deaths before their first birthday per 1,000 births,” said registered nurse Teiffney Tyler, maternal child nurse manager at Missouri Delta Medical Center.

The Bootheel has an infant mortality rate of 6.6, so for every 1,000 live births, 6.6 of those babies die before their first birthday, Tyler noted. One of the goals with the grant is to decrease the rate by 50 percent over the next 10 years, she said.

“We thought one of the ways we could help to improve the rate is through mother and baby bonding by increasing our breastfeeding numbers, which were low,” Tyler said.

As a result, MDMC applied for the grant with a plan to improve its breastfeeding efforts, she said.

“With part of that money, we were able to bring a lactation consultant on board, provide staff training and purchase new breast pumps to be used on the hospital floor and improve educational materials,” Tyler said.

The hospitals’ breastfeeding initiation rate is currently about 60 percent, and it was around 20 percent before the grant, according to Tyler.

Dr. Fallan Mayabb, who specializes in obstetrics and gynecology at Missouri Delta Women’s Care Center, said all the efforts made so far through the grant in a short time have been huge.

“I know in my own patient population, the initial number (of women who choose to breastfeed) is about the same, but the number for postpartum visits six weeks later and those still breastfeeding has significantly improved,” Mayabb said.

And Mayabb credits registered nurse Melissa Kelley, who began in April as the lactation consultant for Missouri Delta Women’s Care Center, for the support local breastfeeding mothers are receiving.

“Those first two weeks – it’s the critical point,” Mayabb said. “Now that we have someone that breastfeeding mothers can reach out to to get over that hump, our continuation rate is going to increase, and the numbers we’re seeing right now are going to be sustained.

A Sikeston native, Kelley previously worked as a lactation consultant for three years and a pediatric nurse for nine years at Saint Francis Medical Center.

“The biggest key was to see women prenatally before they decide how they’re going to feed their babies and to explain the benefits to them and the baby,” Kelley said of the improvements.

Through the grant, MDMC began offering free childbirth classes each month with one of the sessions solely about breastfeeding, she said.

“I see the women a couple times before they deliver and see if they have any questions and explain the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding in the hospital and the resources available,” Kelley said.

The result of the prenatal contact has made mothers feel more confident about their decisions to breastfeed, she said.

“They feel prepared for what’s going to happen, and I answer any questions and concerns they may have,” Kelley said. “I see a lot of second-time and third-time moms who didn’t attempt to breastfeed or had a negative experience before and want to try again. Now they have support so they are willing to attempt it again.”

The grant allows Kelley to focus on helping mothers’ breastfeed, and that also helps out MDMC’s nurses who previously were the only resource for the breastfeeding mothers, Tyler said.

“A lot of moms are wanting to breastfeed and what’s pushing our rate up right now is the second-time or third-time moms who want to breastfeed,” Kelley said.

Mothers receive Kelley’s cell phone number and can call and text her with questions or concerns anytime they need, Kelley said.

In addition to the hospital adding Kelley as a lactation consultant, the grant funded training for two of MDMC’s staff nurses to become lactation counselors, Tyler said.

“One lactation counselor works through the week and one on the weekend so we have that support in-house as well, and our goal is to possibly send a third person so we will have even more support for moms,” Tyler said, noting Kelley is available to any breastfeeding mom in the area.

New mother Justine Lively of Sikeston said she planned to breastfeed even before she gave birth to her son, Val Allen Bolt, at the Sikeston hospital. Lively attended the breastfeeding class taught by Kelley.

“It was great,” Lively said, adding the information she received before her baby’s birth helped her feel more confident about breastfeeding. “Melissa has been wonderful.”

When the nurses brought her baby to nurse, the first-time mother said she knew what to do, thanks to Kelley. She also said she had Kelley’s business card and planned to contact her when she had questions – and Kelley said she encouraged that.

MDMC also collaborated with health departments in Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi counties to create a lending library and provide breast pumps to mothers.

“A breastfeeding mother can borrow a breast pump from the health department to aid in their efforts,” Tyler said. “The lending library is an easy way to provide a service to keep them on track.”

August is National Breastfeeding Month, and this week marks World Breastfeeding Week, which began Tuesday and ends Monday.

“The purpose is to celebrate mothers who breastfeed, people who support breastfeeding and the ideal nutrition for infants,” Kelley said.

Education is also key. Benefits for babies fed breast milk include a decreased risk of respiratory infections, ear infections, obesity later in life and gastrointestinal infections, Kelley said.

For breastfeeding mothers, it can help them return to their pre-pregnancy weight, decrease the risk of breast cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis, Kelley said.

There’s no pressure for mother to breastfeed, Mayabb noted.

“No matter what your breastfeeding preferences are, we are open to helping anyone whether you want to exclusively pump, exclusively breastfeed or both,” Mayabb said, adding there’s no judgment.

Kelley can teach mothers how to build and use a milk supply, the physician said.

“I’m always going to be a breastfeeding proponent, but at the same time, we want all of our moms to feel supported,” Mayabb said.

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