Methodist Mansfield Medical Center has been selected to participate in a two-year program designed to increase breastfeeding rates among new mothers, hospital officials announced last week.The project, known as the Texas Ten Step Star Achiever Breastfeeding Learning Collaborative, is sponsored by the state of Texas and the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality.Methodist Mansfield is one of 80 facilities across the state chosen for the program, which “aims to help birthing facilities create settings where a woman’s choice concerning breastfeeding can be best supported, with the goal of increasing exclusive breastfeeding,” according to the hospital. The project will a include a massive data-gathering component that will be used to help hospitals across the state identify and remove barriers to successful breastfeeding.“We want our babies to have the best start in life, and breastfeeding gives them that chance,” said Angel Biasatti, the hospital’s community relations and marketing director.As part of the project, which is already in the early data-gathering stage, Methodist Mansfield will expand the hospital’s lactation program to include breast pump rentals. Other services include extensive in-hospital education and outpatient lactation consulting.Besides providing data for use in other birthing facilities, Methodist Mansfield administrators are hoping to increase the hospital’s already-impressive breastfeeding rates. Currently, about 87 percent of mothers who give birth at Methodist breastfeed immediately after birth, and about 50 percent have not used formula by the time of discharge.“In many cases for the moms that do use formula, it’s only one bottle,” said Holly Fuller, a nurse and lactation consultant at Methodist Mansfield. “We will look at ways to eliminate that bottle. Was it given in the middle of the night out of frustration, or was it because of a medical issue that we can address?”The American Academy of Pediatrics and the greater medical community have long stressed the importance of breastfeeding over formula feeding, as the latter is associated with greater risks of type 2 diabetes, obesity, lower respiratory infections and asthma later in life.Other benefits include better digestion for babies, less newborn illness, less expense and increased bonding between mother and child.Despite extensive public education, less than 14 percent of Texas mothers exclusively breastfeed for the recommended duration of six months, according to the project’s sponsors.“Sometimes moms can’t breastfeed due to a medical issue, such as previous surgery on a breast, or sometimes they have hormonal issues that relate to milk production,” Fuller said.“Sometimes it’s just lack of education (that leads them to believe they can’t breastfeed),” she said. “We can help dispel those rumors and myths.“If a mother feels like breastfeeding is too much for her or she’s overwhelmed, we can help her formulate a plan that helps her fit breastfeeding into her lifestyle,” she continued. “We can help identify mother-friendly workplaces, or even provide a mom with the materials she needs to initiate a mother-friendly program at work.”Despite the hospital’s strong promotion of breastfeeding, hospital officials are quick to emphasize that the matter is one of choice for new moms.“We have adopted a no-guilt policy,” said Vicki Wiseman, director of women’s services at Methodist Mansfield. “If you want to breastfeed, we will stand on our heads to make you successful. If you don’t, that’s OK, too.“It’s a mom’s choice---we just want to make sure that she is well-educated in making that choice,” she said.