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“We are striving to be Baby Friendly,” said Janice Giroux, vice president of community health for the health region.


In February, the health region, which serves communities in the south east corner of Saskatchewan, signed into action a policy they had been working towards for years.


“It’s best practice and we want to follow the World Health Organization guidelines,” said Giroux of the health region’s reasoning for adopting the policy.


Baby Friendly hospitals must have a written policy supporting breastfeeding that is routinely communicated to the staff, train all health care staff in the skills necessary to implement the policy, inform all pregnant women of the benefits of breastfeeding and ways to manage it, and help mothers initiate breastfeeding within 30 minutes after birth. They must also practice rooming in, encourage nursing on demand, offer no substance other than breast milk to newborns, and never give a fake teat or soother to a newborn. Baby Friendly hospitals also help new mothers connect with support groups and staff to encourage continued breastfeeding.


Every single hospital in Sweden has earned the title and, by 2008, 49 of Cuba’s 56 hospitals were certified Baby Friendly. The US had fewer than five Baby Friendly hospitals.


Many of the points within the policy in the Sun Country Health Region directly mirror the standards WHO sets out. Expectant parents are counselled on the benefits of breastfeeding and tips for maintaining lactation. New mothers are shown how to nurse. All staff who work in maternity wards are required to complete and 20-hour, 10-step computer training program to help them help families.


Giroux said her region’s hospitals do not accept free formula from manufacturers.


Sun Country Health Region isn’t alone in trying to be Baby Friendly.


Heartland Health Region clinical supervisor, Debbie Milton, said, “we are striving to be Baby Friendly and adhere to the WHO code, which states that we will do everything we can to support the decision to breastfeed. We have a written policy that states just this and we attempt to educate all our staff regarding the policy”.


Kelsey Trail Health Region’s corporate communications officer, Peggy Ratcliffe, said they also have a policy which supports exclusive breastfeeding for newborns.


Although Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region and Saskatoon Health Region may also be striving to be Baby Friendly, they, along with five other health regions in south and central Saskatchewan, failed to respond to queries for the story.


The World Health Organization tracks breastfeeding rates in 94 countries. According to their statistics, 35 per cent of infants around the world, up to age four months, are exclusively breastfed. Some Latin American countries, such as Chile and Ecuador, have the highest breastfeeding rates in the world.


Breastfeeding rates in Canada immediately following birth are relatively high and have slowly increased from roughly 80 per cent in 2001 to 87.5 per cent in 2009 according to Stats Can. Although breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months is recommended for all mothers, fewer than 25 per cent of Canadian mothers follow this guideline.


Those who have trouble starting or maintaining breastfeeding could be helped further by specially trained lactation consultants, said Kim Smith, who is internationally certified.


Many lactation consultants in hospitals are nurses, not actually ceritified lactation consultant. Smith said they may not have the expertise necessary to handle more complicated breastfeeding issues.


Despite the push for breastfeeding in Saskatchewan, international board-certified lactation consultants (IBCLC) are not an integral part of the provincial health care system in their own right. (Some registered nurses take it upon themselves to earn the certification.)


IBCLC’s go through extensive, highly specialized training specifically to help mothers and babies develop and maintain healthy breastfeeding. They must maintain their certification through ongoing training, said Smith, who is an IBCLC.


Sherry Jones, Becky Yurkowski, and Angela Mooney-Herman all gave birth in Saskatchewan in the last two years. All three had problems with breastfeeding and said that nobody in the Saskatchewan health care system could help them.


Mooney-Herman’s sister-in-law hired Smith as a birth gift to help. Jones and Yurkowski sought Smith’s help on their own. After their experiences with Smith, all three emphatically agreed specially trained lactation consultants should be a part of the health care system for women who need them.


“It was a great experience,” said Mooney-Herman of working with Smith to help her bond with her premature baby.


Yurkowski had praise for her midwives but said it was Smith who was “walking right along beside us” when she had problems breastfeeding.


Elise Thomsen (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is a contributing reporter and photographer for the University of Regina School of Journalism’s 2012 news service for weekly newspapers in Saskatchewan. She is from Michigan, and has spent 16 weeks in the newsroom of Jamac Publishing in Kindersley and another eight weeks at the Weyburn Review on internship. She will graduate this spring with a particular interest in reporting on important community developments, the arts, and human rights issues.