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Azerbaijan: Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative a success

© UNICEF Azerbaijan/Pirozzi/2004

Breastfeeding strengthens ties between mother and newborn while at the same time strengthening the health of the child

By Olga Pukhayeva

BAKU, Azerbaijan - When thirty-two-year old Ludmila Tagiyeva was getting ready to become a mom, one of her main demands from the hospital was to allow her newborn to stay with her in the same ward.

“I wanted my child to be near me all the time,” Tagiyeva explained. “I did not want to worry and wonder whether my child was crying or whether she was hungry or needed diapers changed.”

Tagiyeva gave birth in the maternity ward of the Musa Nagiyev Clinical Hospital, which joined the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) soon after the National Law on the Monitoring of the International Code on Breast milk Substitutes came into force in 2003

The new law encourages mothers to breast feed infants for at least six months to ensure they get a sufficient supply of micronutrients, necessary for the healthy growth of infants.

According to the new regulations, infants should stay in the wards with their mothers, which both Azerbaijani and international medic experts believe helps establish a close emotional bond between the newborn and the mother, and allows women to watch the development of the infant from the first days of life.

The BFHI was initiated by UNICEF in 1991 to ensure that mothers are making the best  infant-feeding choice, free of commercial interests,” UNICEF report  says.

UNICEF estimates that there are about 150,000 baby friendly facilities in 130 countries worldwide. Since the BFHI has been introduced to Azerbaijan, 67 out of 77 maternity hospitals have joined the initiative, while that number is to increase in the near future.

“This initiative has been very well received,” said Natavan Bagirova, deputy head of the maternity ward at Musa Nagiyev Clinical Hospital and UNICEF facilitator on breastfeeding. “The ward is very quiet now,” she added.

These days the ward is indeed very quiet, compared to the times when around a dozen infants would be placed in to one room and would often begin crying simultaneously. According to Bagirova, the ward has reduced the number of baby rooms from three to one, which the doctors of the ward use in special cases for infants with illnesses.

The feeding regimen has also changed after breast feeding was introduced as a better alternative to glucose, which infants received during the first days of life. Bagirova said Azerbaijan women used to breastfeed babies only on demand in the past, but the Soviet system turned baby feeding into a regimented procedure.

Bagirova explained that the Soviet system required women to feed infants every three hours during the day time, with a six hour break at night.  The nurses gave sweetened water (glucose) to infants during the food breaks if the child was crying. Such system also affected nutritional biorhythms, Bagirova said. For example, she said, when it was the official time to receive milk, some of the infants were not very hungry and consumed little milk, but an hour later when they were hungry, they could not get the proper amount of milk and remained hungry till the next feeding or received a portion of sweet water instead. 

Now, with breastfeeding on demand, babies get immediately get the milk that is produced right after birth, this is called colostrum which is the first milk expressed by the mother and is a special kind of milk, it is low in fat and high in carbohydrates, protein to keep the baby healthy. Colostrum also works as a 100% natural and safe vaccine as it contains antibodies that help protect the baby from infections by spiking the immune system beginning the first minutes after a newborn sees the light. 

UNICEF research proved that breast milk protects children from diarrhea and acute respiratory infections, two diseases which frequently lead to infant mortality. The latest research also revealed breastfeeding women have a smaller change of getting breast cancer while it also helps to delay the next pregnancy and allows the mother and child to recover.

 “There is even a surah in the Koran which says a women should breastfeed a child for two years,” Bagirova said, while talking about the importance of breastfeeding.

She also added that due to the emotional bond that is established between a mother and a baby during breastfeeding, some women from vulnerable families have changed their decision to give up a child.
“There was a woman who was determined to send her child to the orphanage after she had given birth,” Bagirova said. “We asked her to breast feed the baby for 5 or 6 days while she was in the hospital. By the time she had to leave the hospital she had decided to keep her baby.”

Before BFHI was officially launched in Azerbaijan, UNICEF conducted awareness campaigns throughout maternity hospitals, explaining the benefits of the initiative. The medical staff of all the wards participated in trainings designed to move the medical staff from the old system to the new initiative.

Along with trainings, UNICEF supplied equipment to the wards, so that the medical staff could use video presentations to advocate breastfeeding policy among women.



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