Hospitals to hand newborns straight to mums in Hong Kong breastfeeding drive

Public hospitals promote breastfeeding by granting mother and baby an hour of contact in delivery ward and adjacent beds afterwards

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 3:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 April, 2014, 3:04pm

Three public hospitals eyeing international "baby-friendly" accreditation have stopped separating mothers from their newborn babies immediately after labour in order to encourage breastfeeding.

Mother and child now get an hour of contact, up close and personal, inside the delivery ward at the Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary and Kwong Wah hospitals, the Hospital Authority says.

Babies also sleep at their mothers' bedsides during the entire stay.

The new procedures are among 10 requirements under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative launched by the World Health Organisation and UN children's agency Unicef in 1991 to remove barriers to breastfeeding in health facilities.

"In order to cope with the changes, the authority has increased funding and resources to the obstetric wards," Dr Rebecca Lam Kit-yi, chairwoman of the authority's steering committee on breastfeeding, said.

That included assigning two extra nurses to each hospital and placing baby beds next to the mothers' beds, she said.

"We will put the newborn in its mother's arms right after delivery so they can have immediate skin-to-skin contact. The mother can spend an hour with her baby while undergoing post-delivery medical procedures inside the labour ward. This can trigger feeding instincts."

The previous practice was to take the baby away for a clean-up and to keep them warm, she said.

The changes also mean mother and child no longer stay in separate wards, so the newborn can be breastfed regularly.

According to the WHO, breastfeeding lowers the chances of babies developing illnesses including diarrhoea, respiratory and middle ear infections, and allergies. They are also less prone to illness in later childhood.

Breastfeeding mothers recover more quickly after delivery and are less exposed to the risks of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers.

Last year, about 78.8 per cent of mothers who gave birth at Hong Kong's public hospitals breastfed during their stay.

The breastfeeding rate at Queen Elizabeth Hospital rose to about 83 per cent after the new measures were implemented, the hospital's nursing consultant on breastfeeding Christine Lam Chi-oi said.

Department of Health data from 2012 showed only 19.1 per cent of mothers breastfed exclusively - without infant formula - until their baby was six months.

Another of the 10 requirements is to give the infants no food or drink other than breast milk unless medically required, and to provide no pacifiers or artificial nipples.

Last year, the authority announced that all eight public hospitals with obstetric wards would implement the baby-friendly measures gradually according to the initiative.

The three hospitals that are taking the lead may be the first in the city to be accredited "baby friendly" this year - if an expert committee approves of their performance.

The Prince of Wales, Tuen Mun and Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern hospitals will introduce the measures next year, followed by the rest in 2017.