Bigger push for private hospitals to adopt standard breastfeeding-friendly practices

Sister Kang Phaik Gaik, manager of the Alvernia Parentcraft Centre and senior lactation consultant at Mount Alvernia Hospital, assists new parents at the one-stop baby centre.
Sister Kang Phaik Gaik, manager of the Alvernia Parentcraft Centre and senior lactation consultant at Mount Alvernia Hospital, assists new parents at the one-stop baby centre.PHOTO: MOUNT ALVERNIA HOSPITAL

SINGAPORE - More information on the benefits of giving birth in hospitals certified under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) will be disseminated as part of the Government's push for private hospitals to align their breastfeeding practices with those in public hospitals.

The Health Promotion Board will be rolling out online and print collaterals aimed at expectant mothers over the next few weeks, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said on Thursday (June 29).

BFHI-certified hospitals actively encourage and support breastfeeding, and are barred from sponsorship arrangements with formula milk companies.

Dr Khor and Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam toured KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) on Thursday to highlight its practices as a BFHI-certified hospital, which include breastfeeding counselling for expectant mothers and skin-to-skin contact between baby and mother within five minutes of delivery.

KKH, which attained BFHI certification in 2014, saw its rates of exclusive breastfeeding at discharge increase from 75 per cent in 2013 to 85 per cent in 2016.

The call for all hospitals to attain BFHI certification follows the release of a report by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) in May which detailed the aggressive tactics used by formula milk manufacturers to entrench consumer loyalty and increase prices to among the highest in the world.

This included payments and sponsorships to private hospitals for participation in their milk rotation programmes, where a brand is set as the default for a given period for infants who need formula.

All three public hospitals offering maternity services - KKH, National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital - are BFHI certified, and accounted for 42 per cent of births here in 2015.

None of the seven private hospitals offering maternity services here are BFHI-certified, though Mount Alvernia, Thomson Medical and Raffles Hospital told The Straits Times in May that they were working toward it.

Parkway Pantai, which Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena, Gleneagles and Parkway East hospitals are under, said then that it would review and align its practices given the CCS recommendations.

Criteria for BFHI certification, which is awarded by the World Health Authority and Unicef, includes among others a commitment to 10 steps to encourage breastfeeding, such as having mothers share a room with the baby.

Both Dr Khor and Ms Rahayu are part of a task force led by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon to ensure that key measures to address the high prices of formula milk are put in place by the end of the year.

These include tightening regulations on labelling and advertising, facilitating imports of more formula milk options and encouraging good practices in hospitals.

Increasing awareness around the benefits of BFHI-certified hospitals will help parents to make more informed decisions and create demand for private hospitals to move toward certification, said Ms Rahayu.

"This is one of the many measures being taken to lower the price of formula milk. Having the necessary (breastfeeding) support is important in reducing the cost and dependence on infant milk formula," she said.