A new initiative will now help mothers identify breastfeeding-friendly hospitals before giving birth.
The Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI), in collaboration with the Association of Healthcare Providers of India (AHPI), which comprises more than 12,000 private hospitals, has launched an accreditation program that will enable hospitals to obtain a label “breastfeeding friendly”. This program is called “Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI)”.
The certification process has two stages – the first stage involves a self-assessment by a hospital, followed by an external assessment by a certified assessor who interviews doctors, nurses and patients as well as reviews of different practices and the staff training. The accreditation process costs ₹17,000 per hospital.
Early initiation of breastfeeding continues to be low in the country. According to the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021), while there were 88.6% of institutional births, only 41.8% of infants were breastfed in the first hour, which which improved only slightly from 41.6% during NFHS-4 (2015 -2016). In fact, many states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh have shown a drop in the proportion of infants breastfed within the first hour.
Providing breastmilk to infants within an hour of birth ensures that the infant receives colostrum, or “first milk,” which is rich in protective factors, according to the WHO.
The lack of support and counseling for pregnant women during pregnancy and childbirth as well as the aggressive promotion of baby foods are the reasons for the low rates of early breastfeeding. An increase in C-sections is also known to negatively impact breastfeeding rates.
“During C-sections everyone is focused on recovery, wound surgery, infection control and breastfeeding in the golden hour is missed. Evidence shows that improving breastfeeding rates in hospitals reduces neonatal and infant mortality rates. Therefore, it is important that we train our nurses, doctors and paramedics. We will roll out our accreditation program in phases and start with 100-bed hospitals across our 19 chapters,” said Giridhar Gyani, Director General of AHPI.
The initiative is for private hospitals only and builds on the Department of Health and Family Welfare’s MAA program for public hospitals launched in 2016. The tools for this assessment process were developed in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. The BFHI program is a global program of WHO and UNICEF. Although India adopted it in 1993, it died out in 1998 and is now revived after more than two decades.
“The program will assess hospitals on how well they counsel and support lactation mothers, whether they have adequate qualified support people and whether they adhere to the law which prohibits the promotion of infant formula, bottles and Infant Foods – Infant Milk Substitute Act, 1992 and Amendment Act 2003. Hospitals with the best grade will be accredited and others will be guided to improve their practices,” explained Arun Gupta, Central Coordinator, BPNI.
Bloom Healthcare in Chennai has become the first hospital to be recognized as “breastfeeding friendly” under this program.