The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is an international accreditation certifying hospitals with the necessary practices and standards to support breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding gives babies the best, healthiest possible start in life and is recommended exclusively for the first six months of life. Unfortunately, in Jamaica, the average is just three weeks, which is why BFHI is so vital! Mandeville Regional Hospital recently became the sixth and the largest hospital in Jamaica to be BFHI-certified.
Achieving BFHI certification is not easy. It requires discipline, harmony, and perseverance, but here in Mandeville we did it! As Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at the hospital I was committed every step of the way and I am going to share with you a few things that can really make the journey for other hospitals so much easier.
Teamwork made the dream work
First, cooperation is key. Without unity of purpose, it is impossible to achieve and maintain BFHI certification. Keeping us all together and on task was our remarkable BFHI coordinator. We had unwavering support from our Regional Health Authority (SRHA), the hospital administration and the hospital board. Next, we had the department of nursing, nutritionists, doctors, and community partners such as Manchester Health Department, community midwives, and community health aids with whom we worked hand-in-hand.
As you can see, this is a large and diverse team with different training, priorities, and needs. You may wonder how we unified such a diverse team. Well, we needed a shared vision and a very worthy cause. We found that the need for BFHI certification acted as a cord to bind our team.
Shared mission to protect the health of baby and mom
As a team, we believe that breastfeeding advocacy is perhaps the single intervention with the greatest potential to improve the health of our nation. Breastfeeding positively impacts the health of four generations. It impacts the newborn at the time of birth by reducing gastrointestinal illness, cot death, childhood obesity and the benefits that are gained resonate throughout that child’s life.
Breastfeeding also helps the mother at the time of childbirth by reducing postpartum hemorrhage which is a major cause of maternal death. The benefits of breastfeeding continue to be felt even when the mother who breastfed is a grandmother because it reduces breast and endometrial cancer. We also believe in client-centered care. A baby-friendly hospital is a better hospital, and a baby-friendly health care system is a better health care system, and a baby-friendly Jamaica is a better Jamaica!
How we trained 800 staff members
Even though the team was focused and united, we still had some technical issues. We struggled to train our massive workforce. With 800 employees including doctors, nurses, paramedics, auxiliary and administration, and a rapid turnover of staff members, getting across the finishing line of having trained 80 per cent of our staff seemed impossible.
It felt like as soon as we trained staff, they either migrated or moved on. This led to the depressing result that 75 per cent of staff having completed BFHI training fell to 55 per cent. And so, we had to start over. We converted the face-to-face BFHI curriculum to an online platform that was portable, flexible and adaptable. In 2018, we launched the Southern Regional Health Authority (SRHA) BFHI e-Learning Platform and it made all the difference – 123 clinicians have been trained using this tool and the methodology was shared with the Ministry of Health & Wellness.
More than just a certificate
Finally, hospitals must remember that BFHI is more than a certificate. It is a commitment to excellent patient care. In 2018, we opened an infant nutrition and education room which we call ‘Breastfeeding Training Room’. It’s a beautiful space with a tranquil atmosphere. Here we teach mothers some rudiments of breastfeeding and how to safely prepare the formula for those who have to formula-feed. Considering that 90 per cent of our staff are women, we also opened a ‘Staff Lactation Lounge’ to support them to continue producing breastmilk when they return to work. It has become a safe place to encourage them to keep breastfeeding.
We have been on a 16-year journey to achieve BFHI certification, and we are extremely excited that it has finally happened. We believe that it is good, it is doable, and it is valuable. It will not only improve your hospital, but it improves the region. However, we are not done yet as our vision is that Mandeville Regional Hospital will continue to evolve into a state-of-the-art maternity unit.
What’s UNICEF doing?
The UNICEF-World Health Organisation Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative prepares health systems and mobilises healthcare workers to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in accordance with evidence-based standards.
Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life has been identified as the foundation for achieving optimal health and development throughout the life course. The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding remains critically important to the attainment of child’s right to highest attainable standard of health.
UNICEF’s country programme in Jamaica aims to ensure that every child has a healthy start in life and has supported BFHI for several years. UNICEF is now supporting the work of the Ministry of Health and Wellness to expand BFHI and other activities – building the capacity of healthcare staff, breastfeeding promotion, providing counselling to mothers and families and improving the policy environment – aiming to benefit many Jamaican children and many generations to come.