When little Aiden Sandoval was born, lactation consultant Delia Peña was in the birthing suite ready to place him against his mother’s bare chest. It’s a vital part of the delivery of babies at Harris Health System’s Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital and one of the most important things staff can do for newborns, according to Peña.
“From the moment of delivery to the moment of skin-to-skin contact, the mommy and baby begin to bond,” she adds. “We do it right after delivery and leave the baby in that position for an hour. The baby usually stops crying and gets calm. In that time, the baby decides to feed and moves toward a breast to do so.”
Studies have shown that skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding are simple actions that can make a tremendous impact on a newborn’s development. The closeness to mom tends to normalize a baby’s heart rate, breathing and body temperature, while breastfeeding can offer both baby and mother several health benefits. Breast milk can protect infants against infections, hypothermia, hypoglycemia and jaundice.
“A mother’s milk is made just for the baby based on his or her needs,” Peña explains. “The first milk produced by new moms is colostrum and gives newborns a dose similar to a set of first vaccines.”
Aiden’s mom, Kenia Sandoval, likes the comfort of having her baby so near to her. She understands the importance of breastfeeding and plans to continue it.
“I can see his little face and feel his warmth up close,” she says. “He’s been a real good baby and easy to breastfeed.”
Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital is designated as a Texas 10 Step Facility by the Texas Department of State Health Services for its efforts to encourage breastfeeding for new mothers. It’s among 14 such designated hospitals in Houston and is currently in the fourth stage of achieving Baby Friendly USA designation.
According to the agency, a cost analysis conducted by researchers from the Harvard Medical School calculated that if 90 percent of U.S. women would exclusively breastfeed their newborns for the first six months, up to an additional $13 billion a year could be avoided in unnecessary expenses. The analysis includes direct and indirect costs of medical care for pediatric illness and costs of missed work time for mothers.
“It’s a team effort by all our staff (four dedicated lactation consultants) to make it successful,” Peña says. “We start educating the mothers on the benefits of breast milk and give the mommy hands-on instructions and guidance.”
While Sandoval’s breastfeeding attempt was fairly easy, other new mothers are not so fortunate. For them, the team of consultants, nurses and physicians offers electric or manual breast pumps and other feeding techniques. Staff is available throughout a patient’s hospital stay and through outpatient assistance to ensure a successful breastfeeding effort.
“I like my job because I get to see the start of the bonding process between the mommy and the baby,” Peña says. “It’s very moving for me, because I see the emotional connection develop between the mommy and baby. My motivation is to have the mom forget for a moment the pain of delivery and focus on the baby bonding that she will take home.”
Peña has worked in her position at LBJ Hospital for five years and has 12 years of prior experience with breastfeeding working with the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program.