What if all Jamaican hospitals were baby-friendly?

Being a daughter of St. Ann, it was heartening to travel down to see Alexandria Community Hospital get certified as baby-friendly. This is a wonderful first for the parish!

Alexandria and Princess Margaret in St. Thomas are now the only two hospitals in Jamaica officially designated as baby-friendly.

Being baby-friendly is about ensuring that children get the best possible start in life. It’s an official certification that means hospitals are aligned with standards agreed by UNICEF, the World Health Organisation and the research that backs our joint Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Baby-friendly hospitals support breastfeeding

Baby-friendly hospitals implement practices that protect, promote and support breastfeeding. They ensure that they live up to 10 steps that support mothers on their breastfeeding journey.

It’s globally recommended that mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months. On average, Jamaican mothers breastfeed their babies for only three weeks. Exclusive breastfeeding for up to six months has been shown to:

  • Support healthy brain development.
  • Protect infants against obesity and non-communicable diseases such as asthma and diabetes.
  • Make newborns 14 times more likely to survive than children who are not breastfed.

Support for Jamaican mothers starts at hospital

Part of the reason that exclusive breastfeeding isn’t happening as much as it could in Jamaica is because mothers aren’t receiving the support they need, and that starts at the hospital.

Ministry of Health CEO Nadia Nunes, herself expecting her second child, says hospitals should both explain and encourage breastfeeding from the moment of birth.

“Once you’ve delivered, baby will be placed on your chest and baby will automatically move towards the breast. This is called rooting and baby goes towards the breast and will naturally feed. Now, if you choose to breastfeed, you should know that it is your right to refuse formula,” says Nunes.

Companies marketing baby formula inside hospitals

Unfortunately, in many hospitals mothers are offered formula rather than being guided to breastfeed. We are seeing instances where companies that sell baby formula are encouraging medical staff to promote these instead.

We know that breastfeeding is not easy and can be challenging for mothers to balance with other demands on their time; which makes it so crucial that hospitals make it easier from the start.

New parents Anastasia Williams and Creaton Johnson recently experienced this first hand. Creaton was employed to Alexandria hospital during its certification process. He took all that he learned and made sure Anastasia was fully supported to breastfeed their baby Cresia Anna.

Breastfeeding mom supported by her partner

“Trust me, he’s been the best. I wouldn’t give him up for the world! He’s being doing a lot. Sometimes I’m tired at night and when I’m asleep and the baby wakes up he will take the breast out and put it in her mouth because, you know, she only takes breast,” says Anastasia.

baby-friendly hospital initiativeCresia Anna will be breastfed for the full six months, and possibly longer. As the mother of two children, my heart is full of joy for them.

The effort to designate hospitals baby-friendly started long ago in Jamaica. At one point, 10 hospitals were accredited as baby-friendly. Sadly, a number of challenges led to this, including a lack of funding, competing priorities and sustainability – every 3-5 years a review is needed for a hospital to remain accredited.

Push to certify seven more Jamaican hospitals

Jamaica is not alone. Across the world, other countries are also pressed to certify their hospitals. Data from 168 countries indicates that only 10 per cent of births happen in facilities that are currently designated as baby-friendly.

We have to work together to overcome the obstacles that prevent more hospitals from attaining baby-friendly status. This calls for greater funding, political will and capacity-building, among other factors.

UNICEF looks forward to seeing more hospitals being accredited in the near future. We are ready to work with the Ministry of Health to achieve its goal of certifying seven more hospitals by April 2019. That would be such a big win for so many Jamaican children.

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  1. I wish to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months the least or more but extracting milk ain’t easy as I do not produce enough milk and I go back to work in other month.
    What do I do as a mom?

    1. Hi Sash, we’ve just sent you an email with a contact number for a specialist at the Ministry of Health who is ready and willing to help you. Good luck, you deserve it!