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City midwifery programmes awarded Certificate of Commitment from Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative

Global programme provides a practical and effective way for health services to improve the care provided for all mothers and babies

by George Wigmore (Senior Communications Officer)

The Midwifery programmes in the School of Health Sciences at City, University of London have been awarded a Certificate of Commitment in the first steps towards gaining international recognition from the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) for a high standard of education in breastfeeding provided to midwifery students.

The Baby Friendly Initiative, set up by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation, is a global programme which provides a practical and effective way for health services to improve the care provided for all mothers and babies.

The Baby Friendly University Award was launched in the UK in 2008 – the first such award anywhere in the world – in order to ensure high standards of education in breastfeeding and relationship building are incorporated into midwifery and public health education programmes.Thanks to this work, breastfeeding initiation rates have risen by 20% since the Baby Friendly Initiative was established.

The Certificate of Commitment recognises that a university is dedicated to implementing recognised best practice standards in breastfeeding education, and is part way along the road to full Baby Friendly Accreditation.

In the UK, many mothers struggle to get breastfeeding off to a good start due to the pervasiveness of the current ‘bottle-feeding culture’ where facilities and support for mothers are inadequate, and where the power and business interests of the formula milk manufacturing industry takes precedence over public health gains.

However, the research evidence of the health gains of breastfeeding both to infants, mothers and society is overwhelming, with recent research published in The Lancet challenging the misconception that feeding human infants on formula milk is without detrimental consequences.

The staged accreditation programme also trains midwives to support mothers to breastfeed and help all parents to build a close and loving relationship with their baby irrespective of feeding method.

While supporting breastfeeding is at the heart of the programme, the initiative aims to raise standards of care for all babies, regardless of how they are fed. For example, in Baby Friendly hospitals mothers and babies now routinely stay together in the immediate post-birth period, and all mothers are supported to respond to their babies’ needs for love, care and comfort in a way which promotes close parent-infant relationships and supports the mental health of both baby and mother.

Speaking about the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative, Suzanne Lee, from the Division of Midwifery and Radiograph in the School of Health Sciences at City, University of London, said:

"We decided to work with the Baby Friendly Initiative to promote a high standard of education in breastfeeding for all student midwives graduating from this course. We know that many women give up breastfeeding before they want to because of difficulties which could have been prevented if skilled help had been on hand. By ensuring that our students are fully skilled in how to help a mother breastfeed her child, more women will be able to breastfeed their babies for longer.

“Breastfeeding protects babies against a wide range of serious illnesses including gastroenteritis and respiratory infections in infancy as well as allergies and diabetes and obesity in childhood. We also know that breastfeeding reduces the mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and lays the foundation for secure attachment and parenting. Parents need information to make the best choice for long-term health and be practically supported to overcome some of the difficulties that occur in the first few weeks.”

Speaking about the signing, Julie Attenborough, Associate Dean, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the School of Health Sciences at City, said:

“We are very proud to be supporting the UNICEF baby-friendly initiative and to celebrate this important step towards achieving accreditation for our midwifery programmes at City, University of London. By supporting the initiative it will help us to raise the profile of infant feeding and the initiative will enable us to give it a strong focus in the programmes. Also, as students’ confidence in supporting mothers increases, so does their employability, as Trusts recognise the benefit of engaging staff who do not need further infant feeding training.”

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