For years, local and international health organizations have advocated for breastfeeding, especially in the first few months of a baby’s life, citing health benefits for both mother and baby.
The state-run Queen Elizabeth Hospital has been promoting this message, and recently it was awarded for its ten-step breastfeeding protocol, set by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization to encourage the practice.
Henderson Pinder, director of Nursing Services at the QEH, told Barbados TODAY the initiative aims to standardize the care of women and their babies, in keeping with international standards.
“The whole initiative is out of the World Health Organisation and UNICEF commencing in 1991. It is a designation that countries in the world go after because it does signify a level of care that is expected in the various institutions.
“The whole concept is based on ten steps which drive and give direction to the actions that are implemented towards taking care of our women, and also it is based on the World Health Organization policy as it relates to non-breast milk substitutes and milk substitutes,” Pinder explained.
He noted the advantages of using breast milk, citing the nutritional value and accessibility.
“One of the reasons why we’re going after it is because the evidence has shown that babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life are generally healthier in the long run,” he said, adding there are also benefits for adults, as they have a lower risk of hypertension, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases.
Senior Nursing Officer responsible for women and children at the QEH Marita Harris explained that while mothers were encouraged to breastfeed exclusively for the baby’s first six months, they could go as long as three years if they chose to.
“What the ten steps speaks to is not a policy but … guidelines to follow. So the first step says we must have a breastfeeding policy. So that is what we have, and it’s a policy of the hospital … that every baby delivered at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital will be given the best start in life which is breast milk,” she said.
The QEH has been designated baby-friendly since 1998. It was reassessed in 2002 and the institution is now awaiting a reassessment this year.
Harris added that other steps include teaching those involved in providing maternal health services about providing baby-friendly care and teaching mothers how to breastfeed their infants.
“We make sure we give them all the information, if they’re going to be separated from their babies. When they’re ready to go back home, how to store the milk, how to express the milk, how to know the clues when the baby is hungry, how to go about breastfeeding. We teach them everything they need to know.”
The hospital also encourages skin-to-skin contact between mothers and their newborns.
“Babies born are now taken, naked as they are born, . . . to the mothers and the mother holds the baby, and it would be beautiful to see how the baby wriggles its way to the breast. It’s such a natural phenomenon,” she said.
The QEH has launched a postnatal booklet that is given to mothers upon discharge from the state-run hospital.
Pinder said the programme has been a success so far. However, one challenge is encouraging the mothers to stick to exclusive breastfeeding when they return home.
“We might be able to influence the mother when she is in the hospital, but when she goes home to her community . . . it is very hard to get them to stay committed to the programme,” Pinder said.