New program promotes a baby friendly Ontario

Ekram Johar is a mother. As she swayed back and forth, up against her chest, she cradled her six-day-old baby girl Nuria. Johar has breastfed all three of her children in the past and is continuing this practice with the newest edition to her family.

“It’s good for the baby’s development, good for bones and teeth … helps get rid of pregnancy fat and postpartum stress. … The list goes on,” Johar said.

In March 2013, the World Health Organization released a report recommending a variety of postpartum practices. It encouraged mothers to breastfeed their newborn babies for at least the first six months of infancy.

Toronto East General Hospital is one of the three hospitals in Ontario designated as a “baby friendly” hospital. Kristina Niedra is BFI Strategy project manager.

“We have a breastfeeding culture where we support practices that we know will promote the best possible outcomes for mothers and babies, while in their stay with the hospital,” she said.

TEGH was asked to lead the BFI Strategy (Baby Friendly Initiative Strategy), an investment made by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, to promote breastfeeding across Ontario.

“The project is aimed to provide hospitals and community health organizations in the province with training tools, guidance and resources to help achieve the World Health Organization Baby Friendly Initiative designation,” Niedra said.

BFI Implementation workshops are held regularly to educate health-care providers from hospitals, community health centres and other organizations about the steps to becoming baby friendly.

“We spend a lot of time talking about … building a baby friendly (environment) into your culture so it sticks and it’s our new norm as to how we care for moms and babies,” Niedra said.

TEGH meets a set of criteria set out by the Breastfeeding Committee of Canada. One quality that separates direct care providers in the maternal and newborn unit at TEGH from many others, is that staff is required to undergo 20 hours of breastfeeding education – a two-day course.

“We don’t market formula where a lot of other hospitals have formula contracts with big companies, where they actually accept free formula and then pass that formula on to moms,” Niedra said. “We know that breastfed infants are healthier and that breastfeeding reduces incidents of certain cancers in some mothers.”

Breastfeeding doesn’t only benefit babies; it also has its perks for mothers.

“It’s cheaper and more nutritious, and saves you from the hassle of preparing formula,” Johar said. “And there’s nothing in this world that’s more precious than time and the gift of life.”