When I was pregnant I was pleased to learn that every hospital and maternity centre within reach was baby friendly. By that I mean BFHI accredited. I was pretty set on breastfeeding and I’d heard too many tales from acquaintances in the US and elsewhere who had had to fend off staff with bottles of formula, or who’d had bottles given to their babies as a matter of course. The way New Zealand implemented the BFHI has been of some interest. The number of BFHI hospitals here is much higher than in similar OECD countries. New Zealand has 72 as of 2010, or over 90% of it’s maternity hospitals, where the US has 119 , which is less than 5%, and the UK has around 52, or less than 20% of it’s hospitals. Small country advantage, clearly.
Here’s what the BFHI is:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
- Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed and maintain lactation, even if they should be separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, not even sips of water, unless medically indicated. (this is for staff)
- Practice rooming in – that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants. (this is for staff)
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
The program also restricts use by the hospital of free formula or other infant care aides provided by formula companies. (Definition shamelessly stolen from wikipedia)
That’s all really. Now, of those 10 steps I can say I personally experienced 6,7,8 and 9. I probably would have seen 4 as well if I hadn’t been groggily recovering from my (non general anaesthesia) emergency c-section. When I was aware I wasn’t in the operating theatre and able to ask for my baby she was handed to me and I was helped. I was also summarily helped most (but not all) of the other times I asked for help during my stay. So halvsies on number 5 then because no one ever showed me how to pump. I was also given a cartload of flyers so I guess that’s the effort for number 10 there as well. So 4 fully out of 10, with an additional 2 tacked on the end and one which probably would have been done had circumstances permitted. The other 3, 2 really aren’t about me, they are about staff, and the third wasn’t an issue as I was already intending to breastfeed.
Why I think the BFHI is a good thing:
Those first days are important to teaching the baby how to suck from the breast appropriately. Giving bottles or soother devices when not medically indicated can cause issues like flow preference and nipple confusion which can be a challenge to overcome. I think if women do want to breastfeed they shouldn’t have to worry about what the staff are getting up to in terms of accidental sabotage.
In addition, the first few hours are regarded as critical for longer term breastfeeding success.
It does increase breastfeeding longer term rates. No question, there are many countries with success stories. If you don’t want to breastfeed you are able to bring your own feeding materials, and if you change your mind you are often not in hospital for very long. Our usual stay here is 48 hours for normal vaginal deliveries and 96 for caesarean. Complications like excess blood loss or surgical vaginal deliveries merit additional time. If you don’t want to breastfeed or suspect potential complications I’d urge anyone to get a copy of the hospital’s written infant feeding policy. Actually, probably it should be required reading for anyone giving birth, but that’s probably above and beyond what most people are interested in doing in terms of informing themselves. After all if they are BFHI they have to have one that they give to staff.
Where I think the BFHI needs work:
- The quota system: Part of the BFHI is that to maintain the BFHI designation (and often the extra funding that goes along with it) BFH institutions must have at least a 75% breastfeeding initiation (discharge?) rate. This effectively turns front line staff into sales people selling breastfeeding to mothers to keep their institution’s funding. Can sales and support really be the same thing? I’d kind of think if you implemented the rest of the guidelines sensibly that the increased breastfeeding rates would follow without any uncompromising push from staff. Many people do actually want to breast feed. Really. But if they don’t, it’s less energy all around to just leave it. Give more flexible limits (apply the ‘quotas’ to only healthy singleton term infants, or have different quotas for mothers and infants at risk of lactation failure) to hospitals dealing in more complex cases.
- Points 1 and 2. The staff training, which is where the implementation of the BFHI can go awry, needs better minimums or at least better standards. What goes into that staff training exactly? Is the training the same kind of overzealous lactivism that is used on women to push breastfeeding or is it something more along these lines? I find some of these scripts useful and some of them pretty objectionable. Right now the minimum staff training for BFHI accreditation for nurses and midwives is 18 hours (I’m not clear if this is yearly or once ever), and for non nursing staff, so obstetricians, pediatricians and similar, is 3 hours (this is per year). The article referred to above (here it is again) outlines a lot of the issues with getting and keeping everyone trained. No wonder then that the result of the training seems to often turn front line care providers into walking breast is best posters. Which, you know, I’ve never seen? I did see a lot of breastfeeding posters at my various stays, but they were about gauging infant hunger cues, appropriate bodily output for the breastfed infant, signs of dehydration, and latching technique. So, more helpful things instead of useless platitudes.
I think this is the most telling quote from the article:
…specific resources and training may need to be provided for birthing centres that deal with complex cases where exclusive breastfeeding may be less likely to be achieved.
- Point 3. Misinterpretation of the guidelines. This is such a recognized issue I found a PubMed article about it. Being baby friendly does not disallow use of formula or information about formula. There are two main goals, one of which is to stop the free and low cost formula from being marketed to hospitals. The other is to protect breastfeeding by following the 10 steps for accreditation. Because of the tie to certain numbers of breast feeding rates that I outlined in my first objection the guidelines are often exploited by staff.