Breastfeeding and Baby Friendly Initiative: a success story

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I remember it well. Working as a midwife and supporting women to breastfeed wasn’t always plain sailing. As I became more confident and skilful, women were becoming more confused due to conflicting advice. I am sure this is still the case in many areas, but in East Lancashire something happened that influenced things for the better. UNICEF’s Baby Friendly Initiative was introduced more than 17 years ago at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust in NW England, breast feeding rates have soared from 27% to 70%, and the BFI accreditation has been awarded and maintained for 15 years! This is no mean feat, given the demographics of the local population and the fact that there has been a huge service merger and reconfiguration. The current infant feeding coordinator, Sue Henry (@suziehenry68), has kindly reflected on this success with a guest post. Thanks Sue!

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust (ELHT) has been accredited with the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) award for 15 years this year. The maintenance of this award demonstrates the commitment of this hospital Trust to ensure high standards of care in relation to infant feeding. In December 2012 the Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) team assessed our unit again to ensure these standards have been maintained. The unit demonstrated at this assessment that standards of care remain high and BFI re-accredited us with this prestigious award. Policy and guidelines are evidence based, all staff are trained appropriately, and mums can expect skilled support and sound information. The unit will be re-assessed in four years.

In the beginning, it was the Head of Midwifery (Pauline Quinn) who ensured that ELHT progressed forward with the BFHI standards. Many significant changes were seen including the end of separation of mums and babies, abolition of routine formula supplementation for breastfed babies, the start of skin to skin contact after birth, and closer working with community colleagues to ensure ongoing support in the community. Infant feeding co-ordinators over the years (Catherine Boyle, Cathie Melvin and Sue Henry) supported staff through this change and ensured that they were abreast of the evidence.

As time went by ELHT saw our audit results improve, staff becoming conversant with the standards, a change of hearts and minds was witnessed, and breastfeeding rates rising from then 27% to now 70%, maximising potential for improvement in public health. Two hospitals (Royal Blackburn and Burnley General) merged to become ELHT – and both hospitals gained full BFHI accreditation before the merge.

The BFHI have updated their standards during this time, and more recently launched revised standards (December 2012). ELHT are now working to ensure these revised standards are embedded in practice. These standards now have a focus not just on infant feeding, but also on relationship building between mum and baby. We know the two intertwine and we feel excited about sharing new knowledge with staff and local women and families.

Reflecting on what the BFHI means to us locally in addition to giving us evidence based standards and rising breastfeeding rates, the BFHI team gives support, encouragement, direction, external audit (quality checks), and importantly belief. A belief that it is possible to change lives, not just by increasing breastfeeding rates but also by enhancing the feeding experience and the closeness felt between a mum and baby. These memories for mothers last forever.  We are increasingly aware of the importance of bonding, confidence building, care for preterm babies in the neonatal unit and brain development. We thank UNICEF BFI for taking us forward so that we can do our best for babies and families.

How have we maintained our BFHI standards for so long?  Staying committed with support from all staff levels, constantly re-auditing standards and making improvements, having a project lead to keep driving agenda forward, believing in breast milk / breastfeeding, believing in informed choice for all mums, and believing in equality – every mum being support in her choice. Choice is very important. Every mums feeding experience is important. These are things we at ELHT respect. 

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