Health Centre, the busiest maternity hospital in Canada, has been recognized as a breast-feeding and “baby-friendly” hospital by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.
Hospital president Dr. Elizabeth Whynot said Tuesday it took four years of preparation to attain the highly desired status, which was awarded after a 72-hour inspection and assessment by the designating organizations. They concluded that the hospital had satisfied criteria requiring it to:
- Have a written breast-feeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health-care staff.
- Train all health-care staff in skills necessary to implement the policy.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breast-feeding.
- Help mothers initiate breast-feeding within a half hour after birth.
- Show mothers how to breast-feed, and how to maintain lactation even if they are separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
- Allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breast-feeding on demand.
- Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
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Foster breast-feeding support groups and refer mothers to them.
The WHO and UNICEF launched their baby-friendly hospital initiative in 1991 as part of a global effort to promote and support breast-feeding practices for the best start to life.
Baby-friendly maternity hospitals must also adhere to a code that includes allowing no advertising of breast-milk substitute products, no free samples or promotion of such products to mothers, no formula company representatives allowed into the facility to advise mothers and no gifts or personal samples to health care workers.
Whynot said eliminating or reducing free and purchased formula donations to focus on breast-feeding has not cost the hospital a huge amount because supportive donors have made up any difference.
Quesnel Hospital, where about 120 babies are born each year, recently became the first hospital in B.C. to get the WHO/UNICEF designation.
B.C. Women’s stopped accepting free infant formula from manufacturers about 10 years ago and has since rid itself of all formula samples, baby bottles, coupons, brochures and other paraphernalia.
“We ferreted out all the bits and pieces related to marketing of formula,” Whynot said, adding, “This was four years of determined effort.”
She acknowledged there is always a minority of mothers who prefer to bottle-feed with formula.
“We will not be disparaging or critical of such women,” she said, adding that 90 per cent of the 7,500 babies delivered at the hospital each are being breast-fed at the time of discharge.
Marianne Brophy, who co-chairs the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, said that rate is second only to those in some Scandinavian countries.
“B.C. Women’s is the largest hospital in Canada to have this designation,” she said.
During the event celebrating the designation, patient Sarah Green was calmly nursing her day-old newborn, Samantha. She praised the hospital for being so diligent about supporting breastfeeding.
Breast-fed newborns, according to literature provided by the hospital, are at a lower risk of infections in the gastrointestinal system, respiratory system, urinary tract and ears. Breast-fed infants also have fewer allergy-related conditions and less risk of developing insulin-dependent diabetes.
Women who breast-feed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer as well as a lower risk of hip fractures, low bone-density and type 2 diabetes.