How The Baby Friendly Initiative Supports Feeding of ALL Babies

I have just come across an article I absolutely do not agree with. I won’t link to it as the website promotes the sale of a book I suspect is as dreadful as the article, and I have no wish to promote it further: but I SHALL cut n paste here and then reply below.

When the ‘Baby-Friendly Initiative’ is not baby-friendly at all”

“In Britain a quarter of all babies will never have breastmilk touch their lips. By the time a British baby is two months old, she is more likely than not to be exclusively formula-fed. Yet there is a conspiracy of silence around formula feeding, that means most of the mothers of these babies will never receive critical information from the people they trust – nurses, midwives and health visitors, about how best to bottle-feed.

“They’re not taught by a trusted health professional the best bottle-feeding position to reduce the chance of ear infection, nor are they encouraged to bottle-feed skin-to-skin to promote bonding, nor are they told it’s important they throw away all unfinished bottles after an hour.

“For the most part, they get basic information on how to make up a bottle from the side of a tin, and pick up other tips through crowdsourcing on the internet. Because those are really great ways to learn about one of the most important things you’ll be doing for your baby in the first few months of her life.

“This state of affairs is shameful, and negligent, and a large part of the blame must go to Unicef and its Baby-Friendly Initiative.

“The Baby-Friendly Initiative is Unicef’s hospital breastfeeding program. Its aim is to make hospitals more breastfeeding-friendly places – an admirable goal. It does this by giving accreditation to hospitals and other health services which implement its policies. At the moment, around half of the UK’s maternity services and health visiting services are certified ‘Baby-Friendly’.

“Unfortunately, this well-intentioned effort to make institutions more breastfeeding friendly has led to bottle-feeding mothers being ignored, their babies missing out on crucial health information, and promoted feelings of guilt and inadequacy because of its ‘breastfeed at all costs’ mentality.

“Last year the BFI changed some of its guidelines to supposedly better support bottle-feeding parents.

“This week, the lip-service nature of this change has been on full display at the University of Bradford.

“The story goes back a couple of months when myself and my co-author of Guilt-Free Bottle-Feeding, Dr Sasha Howard, were invited to take part in a debate about bottle-feeding by the University of Bradford’s Midwifery Society.

“Fantastic! We were over the moon. Student midwives who actually want to learn more about how they can help the 25% of mothers who will never breastfeed in hospital!

“This was a bigger deal than you might think – education about bottle-feeding in university midwifery courses is patchy or non-existent (a result of that ole’ conspiracy of silence again), leaving newly-minted midwives largely ignorant about formula and formula-feeding.

“So, Sasha and the lovely student representative were going back and forth about logistics, when suddenly, she received this email:
“Unfortunately we have had to put the debate on hold as the university won’t support the event. This is due to the university going through accreditation for BFI and being unable to show support for anything to do with artificial feeding.”

“Yes, you read that right – in order to gain ‘baby-friendly’ accreditation, simply talking about the way the majority of British babies is fed is taboo.

“It beggars belief and logic, and I would suggest the ethics of a caring profession.

“Any mother bottle-feeding mother who has felt let down by health professionals (and that’s most of them) should feel angry that Unicef’s BFI is encouraging a deliberate denial of information to young health professionals who want that knowledge, because they know they are going to need it in order to give the best care they can, to the most women they can.

“How is it baby-friendly to leave mothers with little to no knowledge about how they will, more likely than not, be feeding their baby in two months time? This ‘promotion’ of breastfeeding through denying the very existence of formula has to stop. It’s not ‘baby-friendly’, it hurts babies and their mothers.

“And the crazy thing is, the BFI doesn’t even really make that much of a difference to long-term breastfeeding rates. It has increased the initial uptake of breastfeeding, but a large study of low income British mums found women who gave birth at a BFI-accreditated hospital were no more likely to be breastfeeding at one month than women who had given birth in an unaccredited hospital.

“In Australia, there are far fewer BFI-accredited hospitals, but more women breastfeed, and for longer. There are many cultural reasons for this, but it shows that the big stick of the BFI is not the answer to improving breastfeeding rates.

“If the Baby-Friendly Initiative were really baby-friendly, it would recognise that the best thing it can do is support all babies’ mothers, regardless of how they feed their babies. The conspiracy of silence around formula, and the risk that lack of information creates to babies’ health, has to stop”

So, Baby Friendly aren’t very Baby Friendly?

And Baby Friendly facilities cannot talk about artificial feeding or bottles?

Do you know in the 7 years I have been the co-ordinator for the project around the Baby Friendly Initiative in a maternity setting in the NW of England, and in the few years before that when I worked on the BFI project in the community surrounding the hospital, so the 3 separate accrediations and 3 subsequent re-accrediations I have been involved in, no one from Unicef BFI has EVER told me that discussion of artifical feeding or bottles was prohibited: indeed, some years ago the fore-runner of LIFIB was evaluated by a university for Unicef BFI and the Dept Health to work out the value of it – a resounding success was declared, other areas wanted to join, and LIFIB was born.

Here’s the article if you are interested.

Indeed, in my role as Infant Feeding Information specialist / Chair of LIFIB I am called upon to train health care professionals about various aspects of formula feeding including cows milk protein allergy, colic and reflux, lactose intolerance, paced feeding, responsive feeding, safer preparation of infant milks, etc. This is so that health professionals – in all of my area and in areas locally in the NW of England where I have worked, at least – can talk in an evidence-based way about infant formula, and bottles!

One of the standards assessed for community accreditation is around safer prep of formula for mothers who are not breastfeeding or not exclusively breastfeeding – and conversations with staff to support these informed choices and safer practices is encouraged.

In the many years I have worked in infant feeding and within the structure of BFI accreditation, I have only EVER heard the suggestion that BFI means that staff cannot talk about formula, in one place – at a formula industry-sponsored event outlined here

Last year at the Unicef BFI conference, Dr Helen Crawley the Chair of First Steps Nutrition, who specialise in providing evidence based information about infant formulas, was invited to speak and spoke for an hour on the subject. No one at Unicef BFI is stifling evidence based information about infant formula in my experience.

I wonder whether the Uni of Bradford, cited in the ‘article’ reproduced above, got wind of the fact that the speaker they had initially engaged may not be evidence-based and impartial, and rescinded their offer on that basis in fact?

Something to think about.

JUNE 2016

UPDATE August 2016: I have now read the book – bought online for 15 pence – and it’s as biased as I expected.