12/23/2011 08:00 am ET | Updated Jan 04, 2012

St. John Mother Nurture Project: Kellogg Grant Helps Hospital Support Breastfeeding

A $1.2 million grant is giving one Detroit hospital an edge over medical centers across the state, and, most important, it's helping the city's mothers and babies get healthier.

The St. John Hospital and Medical Center received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in August to develop an innovative breastfeeding program, the St. John Mother Nurture Project. The hospital now offers new support services for mothers, including a nurture club, lactation consultants in the OB clinic, prenatal breastfeeding education, a NICU follow-up clinic and community collaboration.

The Kellogg grant is also designed to help the hospital achieve Baby Friendly accreditation, an initiative sponsored by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children Fund that designates hospitals that offer optimal levels of care for infant feeding. Only 121 hospitals are Baby Friendly, as of November, and none in Michigan.

St. John's medical director of breastfeeding support services, Paula Schreck, M.D., I.B.C.L.C., is dedicated to giving women access to information about breastfeeding.

"It is not the exceptional way to feed your baby or the special way to feed your baby, but the normal way," she said.

Schreck worked with St. John's inpatient breastfeeding program and founded the hospital's outpatient program in 2008.

The latter was a unique model -- the first of its kind in the state -- where mothers could come back to the hospital after birth and work on breastfeeding with a physician and lactation consultant. The collaboration was important, Schreck said, as pediatricians do not always make time during checkups to work on breastfeeding issues, and lactation consultants can be costly. But physician oversight makes the visits eligible for insurance coverage.

Breastfeeding offers many health benefits to mothers and babies: It has been shown to lower the infant mortality rate, lower child obesity, improve brain development and lower the risk of diseases like pneumonia, asthma and diabetes. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends most women initiate breastfeeding and encourages women to breastfeed exclusively for six months and then continue until the baby reaches at least one year.

In the Detroit area, the breastfeeding rate is below the national average. Among African Americans, the rate is under 40 percent, compared to 70 percent for non-white, non-Hispanic mothers in metro Detroit, according to St. John's statistics.

The Mother Nurture Project is particularly focused on addressing what Schreck calls the "huge cultural and ethnic disparity" in breastfeeding rates through education and community outreach. The hospital has partnered with the Women, Infant and Children's Services Program of the Detroit Urban League, the Infant Mortality Project, Carelink and the Parish Nurses program to link the organizations' many services together.

Schreck pointed to several factors that contribute to the low breastfeeding initiation rate among Detroit's African-American mothers: lack of generational influence and family support, misunderstandings about time commitment and ability to return to work or school if breastfeeding and lack of complete information and access to the best health care.

Part of the Mother Nurture Project's educational efforts work against misinformation and try to build family support for breastfeeding. Published literature is directed at family members, and the hospital began giving awards those who support breastfeeding.

"If African-American mothers are given correct information they will choose it," Schreck said, adding that there's a simple way to help ensure all mothers make informed decisions about breastfeeding. "By being supportive of women breastfeeding -- in the living rooms, churches and grocery stores of your community."

For more information about the breastfeeding services at St. John, see their website or call (313) 343-3146.

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As 2011 comes to a close, HuffPost Detroit looks to honor those who made an impact in our city this year. The 2011 Detroit Impact series will profile one organization per day until the end of the year. There are 11 organizations included in the series (see them all in the slideshow below), but there are dozens more doing good in and around Detroit. For full coverage of the people and organizations helping others, visit HuffPost Detroit Impact.

Detroit Impact 2011