The country’s public hospital has officially been designated as ‘Baby-Friendly’ after meeting necessary criteria in an assessment done by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
The Sir Lester Bird Medical Centre (SLBMC) became the third hospital within the Organisation of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to achieve this designation, on September 17.
“They would have looked at the physical space, the maternity unit, the NICU [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit], antenatal classes, along with interviews of healthcare staff, non-medical staff, pregnant women, and newly delivered mothers,” Samantha Moitt, Chief Nutrition Officer at the Ministry of Health told Observer recently.
The evaluation was done on behalf of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1991 with the aim of promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding.
Also, the list of requirements needed to secure a successful evaluation includes a National Infant and Child Feeding Policy (developed in Antigua and Barbuda in 2018), and training of healthcare and non-healthcare staff on the topic of breastfeeding and infant feeding.
According to Moitt, this is in addition to essential practices such as support for mothers after delivery with breastfeeding or infant-feeding and skin-to-skin contact with their baby.
Although the hospital has achieved the designation, Dr Shivon Belle-Jarvis, the Head of the Pediatric Department, affirmed that efforts to ensure families are educated, training of clinical and auxiliary staff, and evaluation of policies and data collection will continue.
In addition, she spoke of plans to eventually get private healthcare facilities in Antigua, along with the hospital in Barbuda certified as Baby-Friendly.
“We want to ensure that the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is not limited to our government facilities. We want private facilities that offer newborn services and deliveries to also be certified … and also for Barbuda,” Dr Belle-Jarvis said.
Meanwhile, the ‘Baby-Friendly’ designation requires birth centres to offer optimal care for infant feeding, ensure the nutritional needs of a baby are met regardless of whether babies are breastfed or formula-fed, and have policies in place to enhance bonding between mother and baby, Moitt added.