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BFHI: Separating fact from fiction

Photo: BFHI: Separating fact from fiction
An increasing number of maternity facilities and community health services are making an important commitment to mothers, their babies and families by becoming Baby Friendly accredited.

Despite the increase in Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI) accreditation, misinformation is still rife amongst mothers and even some health professionals surrounding the program, what it stands for and what it actually involves.

What is the BFHI?

The Baby Friendly Health Initiative is an international program initially launched by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in 1991 to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. It achieves this by promoting practices known to enhance the wellbeing of all mothers and babies.

In Australia, the BFHI is now successfully implemented by the Australian College of Midwives. The accreditation programme is based on the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and demonstrates a facilities or health services commitment in offering the highest standard of maternity care to mothers, babies and their families. 
Accreditation occurs every three years, ensuring regular independent assessment and providing facilities and healthcare services with the framework and support to continuously improve their practices.

“The BFHI ensures that mothers are heard regarding the experience of their care and draws attention to areas of excellence, which can improve staff morale.”

Why should you choose a BFHI accredited facility?

The BFHI appreciate that mothers depend on medical professionals to provide guidance, advice and support.

In a Baby Friendly facility, it is paramount that a mother’s informed choice of infant feeding is encouraged, respected and supported. At no time should mothers be ‘forced’ to breastfeed. The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding are beneficial for ALL mothers and babies, promoting bonding, parental responsiveness, empowerment and informed choice - regardless of feeding method.

“BFHI is in place to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, however, the woman’s choice is paramount and should always be respected and supported, regardless of how she chooses to feed her baby.”

Supporting and protecting breastfeeding

The core purpose of the BFHI is to ensure that mothers, their babies and families receive timely and appropriate care before and during their stay in a facility providing maternity and newborn services.

Given the proven importance of breastfeeding, it is true that that the BFHI protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding. However, at the same time, it also aims to enable appropriate optimal care and feeding of newborn babies who are not (yet or fully) breastfed, or not (yet) able to do so.

All Baby Friendly facilities implement Critical Management Procedures that are designed to ensure that policies, guidelines and processes are in place to allow health-care providers to implement the Baby Friendly standards effectively.

Research shows that mothers and families are most vulnerable to the marketing of artificial formula when they are making decisions about infant feeding. The BFHI states that facilities and community health services must comply with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in order to protect families from these commercial pressures.

But I’m not breastfeeding…

Written policies ensure women and their families receive consistent, contemporary, evidence-based care, and are an essential tool for facility alignment with BFHI principles.

All Baby Friendly facilities must have a policy which addresses standards of care for the mother who is artificially feeding her baby. This policy will include points relating to staff education, skills and knowledge about artificial feeding. It also advises staff that mothers who are considering artificial feeding are supported to make a fully informed choices, appropriate to their circumstances.

The BFHI believes that mothers who are unable to breastfeed must be supported to make fully informed decisions regarding the method of feeding their baby which is most suitable to their individual circumstances.

In a Baby Friendly facility, mothers who are discharged from hospital using infant formula are provided education regarding the safe preparation, storage and handling of powdered formula using National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines. They will receive a demonstration, and supervision on the correct way to make-up a bottle feed using powdered infant formula.

Education and guidance are also provided to mothers on the best practice for feeding their babies by bottle, and where to obtain support with feeding after discharge from their facility or health service.

Your choice

Ultimately, the BFHI believes that all families must receive quality, unbiased information about infant feeding. BFHI accredited facilities and health services providing maternity and newborn care have a responsibility to promote breastfeeding, BUT they must also respect the mother’s preferences and provide her with the information required to make an informed decision about the best feeding option for HER AND HER BABY in her particular circumstances. Every Baby Friendly facility has an obligation to support mothers to successfully feed their newborn infants in the manner they choose.

For more information please visit the BFHI website at www.bfhi.org.au

Written by Melanie Henrikson and Samantha Tutton - Australian College of Midwives

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