Four years ago, just 40% of babies discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, run by Swansea Bay University Health Board, were being breastfed.
“To achieve our change of culture is impressive based on that alone”
But that figure has increased dramatically to 76% thanks to support provided to mothers and their partners by staff.
The unit has now become the only level three neonatal intensive care unit in Wales to gain full Baby Friendly accreditation from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization.
The Baby Friendly accreditation scheme recognises best practice in promoting breastfeeding based on evidence it improves the wellbeing of both baby and mother and reduces healthcare costs.
Consultant neonatologist Dr Geraint Morris, who works on the unit, said the achievement was all the more impressive given breastfeeding rates in the local community were among the lowest in the UK.
Official figures show that between October and December 2018 just 33% of mothers in the former Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board area – covering Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend – were exclusively breastfeeding at 10 days after birth.
This was the third lowest rate out of the seven Welsh health boards and below the Welsh average of 34.5%.
Wales as a whole lags behind England and Scotland when it comes to breastfeeding.
“To achieve our change of culture is impressive based on that alone. One of the dads referred to his wife’s breast milk as magic medicine,” said Dr Morris.
In order to achieve full Baby Friendly status, neonatal units must show they are supporting parents to bond with their babies and that parents are valued as “partners in care”.
To gain the top level accreditation, staff must also make every effort to enable babies to receive breast milk and be breastfed whenever possible.