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IWK first hospital in the Maritimes to get Baby-Friendly Initiative designation

The IWK Children's Hospital in Halifax, N.S., is seen on July 21, 2018.
The IWK Children's Hospital in Halifax, N.S., is seen on July 21, 2018. File/Global News

The IWK announced its inclusion in a very exclusive club, becoming the first health centre in the Maritimes to receive the Baby-Friendly Initiative designation.

The designation is given to hospitals that demonstrate a commitment to best practices in mother-baby care, particularly related to breastfeeding. Yet Cynthia Mann, operations manager for the newborn care unit at the IWK, says that the designation is about more than just breastfeeding.

“The Baby-Friendly Initiative … is saying, here are the best practice standards and best quality standards that we would look for in terms of caring for mothers and babies,” Mann said.

“I think that’s the important thing to remember. … All families benefit from this approach.”

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READ MORE: ‘Dad’s Night’ planned to help fathers of premature, sick babies at IWK Health Centre

The program is a joint project of UNICEF and the World Health Organization and aims to raise global standards in mother-infant care. The designation is given if a hospital is deemed to have met the program’s standards, known as the “10 Steps.”

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“The World Health Organization and UNICEF looked at all of the evidence around mother-baby care and looked at the things that make the most difference to outcomes for mothers and babies,” Mann said. “Then they distilled them down into some key characteristics that you can do as a care provider and as an institution.”

For example, having babies skin-to-skin with their mothers keeps their temperatures regulated, along with their heart rates, breathing and feeding behaviours, Mann said. “Their stress is low and they experience less pain.”

Other parts of the 10 Steps include staff training to ensure they are able to support breastfeeding, and support to recognize infant feeding cues.

WATCH: State of the art neo-natal care unit comes to Halifax’s IWK Health Centre

State of the art neo-natal care unit comes to Halifax’s IWK Health Centre
State of the art neo-natal care unit comes to Halifax’s IWK Health Centre

When asked what the designation means to the facility, Michelle LeDrew, director of women’s and newborn health, said the IWK now stands as a leader in mother-infant care in the Maritimes.

“It means that we are practising evidence-based care and providing supportive environments so that families are able to meet their infant feeding goals. In particular, we’re supporting, promoting and protecting breastfeeding,” she said.

“It really is about stepping out of our comfort zone and being OK with being leaders. We had to take a leap of faith in the last six months and say, yes we’re going for this designation. We believe our data is showing us that we have made good strides ahead. We’re seeing that we have the practices in place aligned with the requirements to become a Baby-Friendly Initiative designated facility.”

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The IWK Health Centre is one of fewer than 20 hospitals in Canada to have the designation. After five years, the current designation will expire and the centre will have to be assessed again.

“It’s really important to stay committed to that continuous quality improvement process, and so that means reviewing our data monthly to see if our practices are staying up where they need to be,” LeDrew said.

“We continue to review our policies to make sure they’re up to date, because the evidence does change and shift.”

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Claire Gallant, one of two community representatives on the IWK’s BFI board, said that having greater breastfeeding supports in the hospital helps strengthen the acceptance of breastfeeding culture in the community at large.

“It still needs strengthening, it still needs improvement and it’s getting there,” Gallant said. “But I think that this will make a big difference because it will mean the hospital will be even more of a strong voice for breastfeeding support.”

“Breastfeeding culture really just means embracing it as the natural … and as a completely normal and reasonable choice of the way to feed your baby in public.”