As a third-year pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles who works an average of 80 hours per week, Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger could use a break, you would think. Too bad there’s so much else that needs to be done — fighting obesity, lowering the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and reducing the rate of infection for babies, for example.
Armed with a master’s degree in public health from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, Goldfinger arrived in Los Angeles for his residency and co-founded an organization that tackles an issue whose benefits address all these issues: breastfeeding.
"There are many health advantages to exclusive breastfeeding, both to the individual and the public,” he said. Unfortunately, "exclusive breastfeeding rates are pretty low in Los Angeles County compared to others.”
His solution was to create, with the help of colleague Dr. Christine Bottrell, a collaboration among his hospital; its sister institution Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center; and the Federal Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.
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Dubbed LATCH NOW — an acronym for Lactation, Advocacy and Teaching at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, and Network of WICs — its goal is to improve services and education about breastfeeding inside and outside of hospitals.
For impoverished and often immigrant mothers, this means spreading the word about the practice’s advantages and combating marketing efforts by formula companies. For hospitals, it means fighting for added support and changing the practices of medical personnel.
"I personally spent a lot of time working with Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, and I helped them apply for and obtain a very large grant,” Goldfinger said.
The $473,000 award over three years made possible the hiring of a lactation consultant and implementing educational programs for hospital staff. The medical center has seen its percentage of babies being exclusively breastfed rise from about 5 percent to more than 20 percent in just a few years, he said.
"That’s a huge jump and a huge coup for Los Angeles,” said Goldfinger, who’s been known to spend as many as an additional 20 hours a week volunteering for LATCH NOW — when he’s not taking time off from his residency to spend 80-hour workweeks there.
Thanks to the support of LATCH NOW, Children’s Hospital is in the process of hiring a lactation support employee to deal with the many breastfed infants who are treated there. The group is also designing a community-based breastfeeding class for new and expecting parents. Goldfinger hopes Hollywood Presbyterian’s improvement will help it receive the World Health Organization’s designation as a Baby-Friendly Hospital, meaning that it is committed to 10 steps to ensure support for successful breastfeeding.
The challenge is a perfect fit for Goldfinger. "My passion is to deal with population-level health issues, particularly focused on underserved populations,” he said.
And about all those extra hours? It turns out they’re just what the doctor ordered.
"It’s not exactly the most friendly life, being a resident. Having the opportunity to feel like I was doing something bigger, doing something for the greater good outside of my residency program, something I could call my own … it’s very fulfilling,” he said. "I feel like we’re really accomplishing something of value for these babies and their families.”