SINGAPORE: The Government is encouraging private hospitals to get certified under a scheme that helps mothers improve their chances of breastfeeding successfully.
Hospitals that have joined the scheme, called the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), actively encourage and support breastfeeding, and are barred from sponsorship arrangements with formula milk companies.
More information on the benefits of giving birth in BFHI hospitals will be given to expectant mothers in the coming weeks, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said on Thursday (Jun 29), during a tour at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) to observe the measures implemented to encourage mothers to breastfeed.
The call for private hospitals to attain the certification comes as authorities are promoting breastfeeding in light of the rising cost of infant formula.
Currently, the three public hospitals offering maternity services, KKH, National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital - are BFHI-certified, but none of the seven private hospitals that offer maternity services are.
KKH has seen exclusive breastfeeding rates upon discharge increase from 75 per cent in 2013 to 85 per cent in 2016, Dr Khor said.
The practices implemented at KKH include breastfeeding counselling for expectant mothers and ensuring skin-to-skin contact between mother and child is made within five minutes of delivery. Both mother and baby also stay in the same room so the mother can learn to recognise their child's feeding cues.
NUH and SGH have seen the same trend, she added. "For all three hospitals, the exclusive breastfeeding rates upon discharge has actually increased from 76 per cent in 2013 to 86 per cent in 2016," said Dr Khor.
But Dr Khor acknowledged that there are challenges in getting private hospitals to come onboard. For example, BFHI-certified hospitals cannot enter into sponsorship agreements with infant formula companies, and there is "some resistance" from private hospitals on that front. Dr Khor also highlighted other obstacles.
"For instance, one challenge is encouraging the mothers to practise 24-hour rooming in with the baby, because the concern is that the mothers may feel they want to rest, or they are worried if it's a shared ward and the mothers are afraid they'll be disturbed," she said.
Dr Khor said the Government is engaging the private hospitals to address some of these issues.