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Harper and her mother

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Harper and her mother


Hospital Not Baby-Friendly

Cottage Keeps NICU Babies Too Far from Mothers


Santa Barbara is usually home to the best of the best, but not when it comes to Baby-Friendly hospitals. Lagging behind Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Los Angeles, and soon-to-come Santa Maria, our local hospital has yet to obtain Baby-Friendly status. The official Baby-Friendly designation is a World Health Organization status that hospitals implementing the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding can obtain. It is the gold standard of hospital care, and we do not have it.

Our community used to have an impressive claim to Baby-Friendly fame. Goleta Valley Hospital was the very first hospital in California to become Baby-Friendly. Unfortunately, when Cottage closed the doors on Goleta Valley as a labor and delivery option, it also closed the doors on the only local hospital officially implementing Baby-Friendly practices.

This matters to me because I gave birth at Cottage 17 months ago. My daughter and I had a rough start, which resulted in a C-section and a stay in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Unfortunately, as I found out during my stay, Cottage Hospital is not on the forefront of understanding the important science-backed practices of keeping mothers and babies as close together as possible, initiating breastfeeding as soon as possible, and practicing advanced medicine in a way that honors babies and their mothers as much as possible.

NICU babies spend many days hooked up to monitors and IVs.
Click to enlarge photo

Kristen Walker

NICU babies spend many days hooked up to monitors and IVs.

One thing that greatly hindered breastfeeding and skin-to-skin time with my daughter after she was born was sheer distance. In Santa Barbara, NICU babies — the smallest and most fragile patients in the hospital — and their mothers are housed in sections of the hospital that occupy two separate city blocks. And the NICU ward is not planned to be moved until 2017, at the earliest.

The price my daughter and I paid for that separation was extreme breastfeeding difficulty and even breast refusal after coming home from the hospital, not to mention the emotional turmoil of having to override every natural instinct I had as a mother to be close to my newborn baby while she was alone and fighting for her life.

Time and time again in my research to find a solution to our breastfeeding troubles, I ran into the same advice from breastfeeding experts — “get the baby to the breast within the first four hours after birth.” Many studies show how constant skin-to-skin contact, even with NICU babies, can help babies come back from the brink of death. I couldn’t help but think back to our own experience — how my daughter, Harper, was placed on my chest but no one helped me get her to the breast until the next day (and I was too exhausted and out of it to think to ask), how I was called in my hospital room the next morning and asked if she could be supplemented with formula by bottle before we had even tried nursing, and how helpless I felt to feed her any other way, given that I had to trek across two blocks to reach her — no small distance when you can barely walk due to a C-section.

My biggest takeaway from the whole experience is this persistent and looming question: In this day in age, when there is hard science that tells us that babies and moms thrive when they are supported in being as close together as possible after birth, what is going on at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital?

I decided to create a petition online asking Cottage Hospital to obtain the official WHO Baby-Friendly designation and move their NICU closer to moms. In less than one month’s time more than a thousand community members signed the petition. Heartened by our community’s response, I contacted Cottage Hospital to arrange to deliver the signatures collected for this important cause. I received an email from Herb Geary, vice president of Patient Care Services, stating that Cottage would not accept the petition signatures. I am dismayed by Cottage Hospital’s response and concerned that our community’s hospital is turning a deaf ear to local moms.

At the end of the day, I don’t just want Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital to get the official Baby-Friendly designation and move their NICU closer to moms. I want our local hospital to become a leader in mother-infant care and support. If we have the wherewithal to make the entryway to Cottage look like the Biltmore, we can certainly increase the standards of care for mothers and babies after birth and get NICU babies closer to their moms before 2017.

It’s time for everyone in this community who cares about the health of moms and babies to demand this. Please sign the petition to let Cottage know this cause is important to you.

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