By Tom Clegg
As a nurse researcher and director of the lactation program at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Diane Spatz has long been a proponent of the benefits of breast-feeding for vulnerable infants of the neonatal intensive care unit.
Spatz, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN, recently joined an exclusive club when she became one of only 50 nurses to be designated an Edge Runner by the American Academy of Nursing since the inception of the AAN’s Raise the Voice campaign in 2007. The campaign promotes new evidence-based healthcare models that better serve patients, incur lower costs and have measurable results.
Spatz, who also is a professor of perinatal nursing and the Helen M. Shearer Professor of Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Philadelphia, was recognized for her program, “10 Steps to Promote and Protect Human Milk and Breastfeeding in Vulnerable Infants.” The goal of the program is to close the gap in care at NICUs where infants who are most in need of human milk are the least likely to receive it, something the popular Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative does not address, Spatz said.
“Patient care models like these, developed by Edge Runners, are transforming America’s healthcare system for the better, putting nurses at the forefront of healthcare solutions,” said AAN President Diana J. Mason, Phd, RN, FAAN.
Spatz first introduced her model at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 2008, according to a news release. In 2000, about 30% of NICU infants there received human milk at discharge. By 2014, that number was more than 86%. In 2015, more than 600 staff nurses are now trained to provide evidence-based lactation support and care at the hospital, according to a news release.
“In the neonatal intensive care unit, human milk can be the difference between life and death,” said Spatz, who noted the immunological and anti-inflammatory properties of human milk are especially helpful for critically ill babies. “But if you look at statistics from the Vermont Oxford Network, their statistics show less than 44% of very low birth weight infants go home on human milk. So, clearly, we’re not doing a very good job in the U.S. of protecting our most vulnerable infants.”
Although there is still work to be done on that front, Spatz said her model is being adopted by more and more hospitals not only in the U.S. but also abroad. In Thailand, for instance, one hospital had a usage rate of human milk for NICU infants of 10%, but Spatz said within a year of using her model, that rate jumped to 60%. Spatz is especially proud of the speed at which hospitals are able to implement her program and the empowerment it gives mothers.
“If you can support a mom to provide milk for her baby, and if she can provide milk for her baby all through the hospital stay and post-discharge, then that mom knows she’s contributed to her child’s care,” Spatz said. “She’s an integral part in making a difference in the child’s health outcome.”
Tom Clegg is a freelance writer.