The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was first launched in 1991 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to give every baby the best start in life. The aim was to remove breastfeeding barriers in health facilities such as hospitals, clinics, maternity centers and mother-child care centers. The idea was to encourage health facilities and especially maternity hospitals to implement the ‘Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding’. By doing so, health facilities can be accredited as “Baby-Friendly” by a recognized organisation to ensure a high standard of care for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers and their babies.
Why is a Baby-Friendly Initiative needed in Hong Kong?
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of babies developing many illnesses like diarrhoea, respiratory and middle ear infections, including allergies. Breastfeeding even leads to fewer illnesses in later childhood. It is also important for the mother’s health, i.e. it helps the mother to recover more quickly after delivery, reduces the risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer, and it promotes emotional health. Enhancing breastfeeding leads to:
- Better health for children
- Better health for mother
- Significant cost saving to the family
- Significant cost saving to the society
According to the Department of Health, in 2016 the proportion of mothers having initiated breastfeeding their newborn babies on discharge from hospital was 86.8%, and yet the exclusive breastfeeding rate for babies up at 4 months old was only 30.7%. This shows that mothers are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, but encounter substantial difficulties in persisting. It takes all sectors of the society to work together to make breastfeeding easier. To achieve higher breastfeeding rates (especially exclusive breastfeeding rate) in Hong Kong, we work to promote breastfeeding awareness, advocate the protection of breastfeeding rights and create a Baby-Friendly environment in health facilities that care for mothers and babies. Regarding the latter, we encourage and facilitate all such health facilities to achieve the relevant WHO/UNICEF standards of a Baby-Friendly health facility.