Private hospitals urged to join initiative that bars them from tie-ups with formula milk companies

Private hospitals are being encouraged to join a scheme which bars them from sponsorship agreements with formula milk companies and requires them to do more to support breastfeeding.

The scheme is called the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), and more information on the benefits of giving birth in BFHI hospitals will be given to expectant mothers in the coming weeks, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said yesterday.

All three public hospitals offering maternity services - KK Women's and Children's Hospital (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 that they are working towards it. Parkway Pantai, which Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena, Gleneagles and Parkway East hospitals are under, said it is studying the feasibility of attaining certification.

The criteria for BFHI certification, awarded by the World Health Organisation and Unicef, include a commitment to 10 steps to encourage breastfeeding, such as having mothers share a room with their babies.

 
 
 

The call for all hospitals to attain BFHI certification follows the release of a Competition Commission of Singapore report last month, which detailed tactics used by formula milk manufacturers, including inducements to private hospitals.

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 last year.

Dr Khor and Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam toured KKH yesterday to highlight its practices, which include breastfeeding counselling for expectant mothers.

Increasing awareness around the benefits of BFHI-certified hospitals will help to create demand for private hospitals to move towards certification, said Ms Rahayu.

"Having the necessary (breastfeeding) support is important in reducing the cost and dependence on infant milk formula," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2017, with the headline 'Push for standard practices in maternity hospitals'. Print Edition | Subscribe