By CAROLINE CUNHA
BARLAVENTO HOSPITAL in Portimão is working towards becoming a “Baby Friendly Hospital”, a certification awarded by UNICEF to hospitals which promote breastfeeding. The hospital hopes to attain this status by the end of 2007.
It has long been felt that breast milk is best for babies and the hospital has been promoting this for newborns for some time, but this year a commission has been created to prepare its candidacy to achieve UNICEF’s official status.
The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), launched in 1991, is an effort by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation to ensure that all maternity units, whether independent or inside a hospital, become centres of breastfeeding support.
A maternity facility can be designated Baby Friendly when it does not accept free or low-cost breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles or teats, and has implemented 10 specific steps to support successful breastfeeding.
Since the BFHI began, more than 15,000 facilities in 134 countries have been awarded Baby Friendly status. In many areas where hospitals have been designated Baby Friendly, more mothers are breastfeeding their infants and child health has improved.
Currently, only one hospital in Portugal has Baby Friendly status, Hospital Garcia de Orta, Sul do Tejo in Almada, Lisbon.
In February, a UNICEF commission will travel to the Algarve to evaluate Barlavento Hospital’s candidacy for Baby Friendly Hospital status. The Resident contacted the hospital to find out more about the project. Alda Santos, the head nurse in the Obstetrics department and a member of the Commission working to attain the Baby Friendly status, explained the importance of the project.
“It is very important to the Barlavento Hospital to achieve this accreditation. By promoting breastfeeding we are doing something very important for the community because we will be raising health levels.
“There has been a general increasing trend in this country for babies to get respiratory infections early on and it is important to promote breast feeding in order to help avoid this situation. More than 90 per cent of new mothers, who have their babies here, leave this hospital breastfeeding.”
When asked why the Barlavento will be only the second hospital in the country to obtain Baby Friendly status, Alda said: “It is a political thing. The hospital’s management has to be interested in the project and committed. Some institutions do not have the same objectives. I do know of another hospital that is currently trying to attain Baby Friendly status that I believe is located in the Coimbra area. We hope that if all goes well with the audit in February the hospital will attain Baby Friendly status within six months.”
But why all the fuss about breastfeeding, shouldn’t it just be a natural thing that everyone does? “It did seem to go out of fashion to a certain extent and with formula powdered milk becoming so regularly available in supermarkets, mothers just didn’t have the patience to breastfeed. Sometimes it is not easy, there can be problems initially and they were not getting the support they needed.”
Some are worried about problems occurring when they return to work and there is a certain reluctance among companies to encourage mothers to take the breastfeeding hours they are permitted by law.
“For mothers who have to return to work early, we want to educate them that they can still continue to breastfeed. We want to raise awareness about this and teach them to express their milk so that it can be given by their childminder.”
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