The Public Health Agency (PHA) is today highlighting the fact that Northern Ireland now has the highest percentage of babies born in Baby Friendly hospitals in the whole of the UK with 61% of all babies born here being provided with the opportunity to get off to a better start in the way they are fed and cared for.
The Baby Friendly Initiative is a programme of UNICEF UK which urges the health service to adopt evidence based best practice in relation to infant feeding. This involves having a breastfeeding policy, training staff, giving effective information and support to mothers, encouraging mothers to have skin to skin contact with their baby immediately after the birth and adopting baby friendly approaches to parenting such as baby-led feeding and rooming-in (keeping mother and baby together). Units who adopt these practices then commit to making changes to the way they care for mothers and babies and then undergo a rigorous external assessment before they can be called ‘Baby Friendly’ .
Speaking about the Baby Friendly Initiative during World Breastfeeding Week, Janet Calvert, Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator for the PHA and Professional Lead for the Baby Friendly Initiative in Northern Ireland, said: “There has been a lot of progress with Baby Friendly here in the last year and it is a fantastic achievement that so many of our babies are now born in Baby Friendly hospitals. Mothers can rightly expect improved standards of support for breastfeeding in these hospitals and it isn’t just breastfeeding mothers who benefit, all expectant and new mothers are offered information and support and the opportunity to care for their babies in a Baby Friendly way.”
The PHA recognises the importance of breastfeeding to health and the need to ensure mothers get off to a good start with breastfeeding. Research confirms breastfeeding is good for mother and baby as breastfeeding women are less likely to suffer certain illnesses such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer or osteoporosis. Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from ear, chest and kidney infections, gastroenteritis, childhood obesity, diabetes and severe eczema as there are special components in breast milk which boost the immune system.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey added: “My Department recently published a review of the Breastfeeding Strategy for Northern Ireland which highlights the significant progress made to promote and support breastfeeding. Breastfeeding rates here show an upward trend, with 63% of mothers’ breastfeeding at birth. However, we still have the lowest rate of breastfeeding across the UK. I would like to see further improvement, as we know that breast milk gives babies all the nutrients they need for the first six months of life and helps protect them from infection and diseases. It also reduces mothers' chances of getting certain diseases later in life.
““My Department is developing an updated Breastfeeding Strategy, to build on the excellent progress that has already taken place, which will enable the continued commitment to promote, support, and protect breastfeeding in Northern Ireland.”
Belfast Health and Social Care Trust maternity services which includes Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital and the Mater Hospital are among the most recent to receive Baby Friendly accreditation. Local mum Lisa Copeland had her second baby Johnny in the Mater five weeks ago. She said: “I had another very positive experience with this birth of my second son at the Mater. Their Baby Friendly approach meant I was able to hold my baby in skin to skin contact for as long as I wanted just after he was born. This was wonderful and helped to ensure both of us got off to a good start. Johnny was slow to breastfeed at the beginning but the midwives in the Mater were really supportive and patient. Now he is feeding really well and both he and I couldn’t be happier!”
Receiving the accreditation takes a lot of hard work and commitment and therefore retaining that accolade means this level of quality must be maintained and continually reviewed and good practice built upon.
Audrey Moore, Lactation Midwife with Altnagelvin Hospital which received Baby Friendly recognition a decade ago, said: “Maintaining Baby Friendly status for the last 10 years has been challenging. However, being Baby Friendly accredited ensures a supportive environment where mothers are enabled to get off to a good start with breastfeeding and staff are supported to deliver high standards of care.”
Contact PHA Press Office, Ormeau Avenue, on 028 9031 1611.
Notes to the editor
Janet Calvert, Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator, will be available for interview during World Breastfeeding Week. Contact Press Office on number below to arrange.
World Breastfeeding Week runs annually from 1 – 7 August.
The Baby Friendly Initiative is a worldwide programme of the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
Caption: Pictured at the PHA promoting World Breastfeeding Week are Barbara Spratt, Breastfeeding Coordinator for the Mater Hospital, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, Janet Calvert, Regional Breastfeeding Coordinator, PHA, with mum, Lisa Copeland and baby Johnny(5 weeks).