Working together for our wee ones: Three Nova Scotia hospitals selected to participate in national baby-friendly collaboration project

New mom and baby at Cape Breton Regional Hospital (Kristy MacLeod).
New mom and baby at Cape Breton Regional Hospital (Kristy MacLeod).

About 90 per cent of new mothers in Canada begin breastfeeding immediately after their baby is born. However, the number of exclusively breastfed babies drops substantially after families leave the hospital.
Just over 28 per cent of women ages 18 to 34 and about 36 per cent of women ages 35 to 49 are still breastfeeding six months later.

Health professionals can help support parents and babies through their breastfeeding journey by ensuring a few essential supports are in place. The supports are described in the Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI), an international quality improvement strategy that was started in the ’90s by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF.

In Canada, BFI Designation is awarded to hospitals and community health services providing maternity care that meets Canadian best practice standards set by the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada.

These Canadian standards come from the WHO’s BFI 10 Steps and Code. These evidenced-based criteria ensure new mothers and babies receive consistent and effective care and the supports they require from the moment the baby is born.

Examples include skin-to-skin contact following the birth, rooming babies with their families, educating parents about the benefits of breastfeeding and providing follow up care after the family leaves the hospital.

For those who aren’t able to or choose not to breastfeed, health professionals will provide advice on formula types, preparing bottles and how best to feed their baby.

For several years, there were different groups of health care professionals across Nova Scotia working towards achieving the BFI Designation, which is an evidence-based international initiative to protect, promote and support breastfeeding. Each group had been working independently with no oversight of the larger project.

Sally Loring, senior director of women’s and children’s health at Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), saw an opportunity to improve the quality of care already provided to parents and newborns by bringing these groups together so that they could learn from and support each other.

Loring helped three NSHA hospitals start the extensive application process for inclusion in the National Baby-Friendly Initiative Quality Improvement Collaborative Project.

This process included setting up teams of staff who have an interest and passion in maternity and newborn care for each of the sites dedicated to this work.

“I am delighted to be able to be part of this national initiative and witness the enthusiasm and drive of staff to advance the quality of maternity and newborn care,” Loring said.

“The staff were already committed to improving patient outcomes, but they needed additional support and resources to be able to progress the work.”

The National Baby-Friendly Initiative Quality Improvement Collaborative Project was created through a grant to the Breastfeeding Committee for Canada from the Public Health Agency of Canada in an effort to increase the number of Baby-Friendly designated hospitals in Canada. It is a two-and-a-half year commitment.

This project is the first of its kind in maternal newborn care in Canada with just 25 hospitals participating.

Three Nova Scotia hospitals have been selected to participate in the project. Aberdeen Hospital in New Glasgow, Cape Breton Regional Hospital in Sydney and South Shore Regional Hospital in Bridgewater have all committed to this project that will ultimately standardize and improve the care for new mothers and babies.

“As well as improving the quality of patient care, the project will provide the teams with information on quality improvement and data measurement strategies – tools they can use to support changing how care is delivered elsewhere,” explained Loring.
Sarah Frittenburg is the BFI resource nurse for NSHA. Frittenburg, based at South Shore Regional Hospital, is tasked with overseeing the project at all three hospitals.
“After I became a mother, I went back to school to become a nurse,” Frittenburg said. “While I was doing my nurse placement, I became involved with the BFI in my community. It is a passion of mine and I’m very excited to be part of the collaboration project.”

Dedicated teams have been created for each of the hospitals including administrators, leaders and parent participants. These groups are focused on ensuring every mother and baby receive consistent and best-practice care.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, explains that “advocating for breastfeeding as a healthy start for babies and as a larger public health issue is a priority for me and for the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“Research confirms that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life offers significant benefits and protection. The Baby-Friendly Initiative plays an important role in encouraging and supporting breastfeeding and in strengthening maternal and child health in Canada.”