Kathleen and Troy Martyshuk snuggle in bed together while newborn Riley snoozes on Kathleen’s chest. It’s a comfortable, family scene—one that, even a few years ago, wouldn't have existed in a hospital.
“This is our second child,” explains Kathleen. “I have seen a bit of a shift. Riley’s been with us the whole time. The nurses bathe the baby at 24 hours instead of six hours. The lab testing is done skin to skin. It’s been good; I feel like I can comfort him, instead of watching him scream in the little bassinet.”
There are good reasons to keep a mom and baby together, says Gail Cameron, the Senior Director Operations with Women’s & Child Health. “Hospitals used to separate mothers and babies by placing newborns in a nursery. It came from a good place – letting mom rest – but it actually interrupted one of the most primal, basic instincts between mom and baby: breastfeeding.”
The Grey Nuns Community Hospital is the largest full-service hospital in Canada to receive the baby-friendly designation by WHO and the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada (BCC). The Misericordia Community Hospital and Bonnyville Health Centre are also in their final stages of completing the vigorous accreditation process.
The designation is a strong step toward better care and support for all mothers. Baby-friendly protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding families and formula-feeding families by providing accurate information on infant feeding.
“Ninety-two per cent of mothers want to breastfeed, but it’s harder than it seems,” says Gail. “You have to be committed to the baby 24/7 to get it established.”
WHO and BCC recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months. To help moms with their breastfeeding goals, new babies are put skin to skin with mom at delivery until after the first feed. Covenant Health also supports 24-hour rooming-in with mom and baby to support exclusive breastfeeding and protects families against commercial pressure from formula companies.
Breastfeeding has many benefits, including long-term protection from illness, decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and faster healing after delivery. It promotes bonding between mother and baby and is good for the environment.
Not all mothers are able or want to breastfeed. Baby-friendly hospitals respect a mother’s choice.
“Whatever decision you make for your infant feeding, we support it,” says Shannon Anderson, Project Lead for Covenant Health's Baby Friendly Initiative.
“If you’re going to breastfeed, we will help you recognize when and how to feed your baby, how to troubleshoot, how to position them and latch. We’re giving you the tools," she says. "If you choose to formula feed, we will show you how to safely and accurately prepare formula. Formula-feeding families need to ensure their feeding choice is safe, affordable and sustainable.”
One of the challenges of being a baby-friendly site is that all hospital staff need to be aware of the baby-friendly initiative and how they can support it. All staff in women's and children's health take an additional 20 hours of training specific to infant feeding support. Further, the universal breastfeeding symbol is posted around all Covenant Health hospitals and mothers are encouraged to breastfeed anyplace, anytime.
Baby-friendly is a commitment that has made a difference for staff as well as patients. Take Erica Ma, who returned to work in the Maternal/Newborn & Antepartum unit after a maternity leave two years ago.
“Despite the fact that we teach moms how to pump and breastfeed, I don’t see breastfeeding in public a lot,” says Erica. “Now that I’m back to work, I pump in the lactation consultant room on my breaks. I use our equipment, clean it and store it myself—what better unit than ours, with all the breast-milk storage fridges already available?”
Ultimately, baby-friendly comes down to keeping families together.
“I want every woman to have the experience she’s envisioned,” says Shannon. “It’s all about our patients. We are here to serve you. How do we make this your best experience? You tell us what you need and want; we’ll tell you what we can offer you.”