A neonatal unit in Northern Ireland is believed to have become the first in the country to achieve a nationally recognised accreditation.
The team at Antrim Area Hospital neonatal unit, part of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust, have been working towards a full Baby Friendly accreditation since 2017.
The programme by Unicef UK, introduced in 1994, supports maternity, neonatal, health visiting and children’s centre services to improve breastfeeding levels.
“This work has helped both staff and parents to focus on family-centred care”
Organisations can achieve the accreditation by meeting a set of evidence-based standards.
With funding from Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency, Antrim’s neonatal unit developed breastfeeding lead roles, including a breastfeeding lead nurse, who gained the knowledge and skills to help implement such standards.
Some of the new measures implemented by the team included providing comfortable reclining chairs for breastfeeding mothers, breast pumps for each cot, and more privacy screens to encourage mothers to pump beside the cot.
The neonatal team also provide meal vouchers for parents to have a hot meal each day, a hydration station for parents and staff to drink water and car parking tickets to enable free car parking on the Antrim Area Hospital site.
The unit also offered access to both parents and grandparents, however temporary changes were necessary during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ruth McKinstry, breastfeeding lead nurse on the neonatal unit, said she was “delighted” to have received the accreditation.
“This work has helped both staff and parents to focus on family-centred care, ensuring families stay together at a most vulnerable time, surrounded by a supportive and welcoming environment and team,” she said.
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Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organization for babies until six months’ old and thereafter with other foods for two years and beyond.
Ms McKinstry added: “Breastmilk provides the unique nourishment required to meet babies nutritional needs, it helps fight infection, stimulates gut growth, aids digestion and research has also shown it can have an analgesic effect which is important for preterm and sick babies.”
The recent accreditation follows the trust’s maternity service being awarded a gold Baby Friendly Service accreditation in May 2018.
According to Unicef, the majority of maternity units (93%) and health visiting services (90%) across the UK are now working towards Baby Friendly accreditation.