Chilliwack’s public health unit first in B.C. to earn the WHO’s Baby Friendly Initiative designation

Launched in 1991, BFI is supported by the World Health Organization and UNICEF

It’s been a work in progress, but Chilliwack’s public health unit has finally earned itself the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Baby-Friendly Initiative (BFI) designation—and is the first in the province to do so.

Launched in 1991, the BFI follows a global breastfeeding standard adopted the year previous by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that protects, promotes and supports breastfeeding.

“At (its) core,” said Crystal Salter, who manages the unit’s clinical operations, “the Baby Friendly Initiative is about the importance of supporting and teaching feeding cues and supporting mom and baby attachment.

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“Attachment is the process by which babies begin to learn to explore their environment,” continued the health nurse. When parents are able to recognize and respond to a baby’s hunger cues, it teaches trust and the child doesn’t need to expend their energy trying to get their needs met.

“Attachment goes beyond babies because (it) sets children up to trust their environment, meaning there’s more opportunity for them to develop in a healthy way. Babies can grow more effectively when they’re in attachment (and) learning opportunities increase (because) attachment starts to allow those brain connections to happen.”

An integral member of the community’s network of health care providers, the public health unit provides various nursing services that include: screening, counselling, communicable disease control, and health promotion activities for all age groups; speech language pathology, and information on nutrition and dental health; health education programming; childhood immunizations; and prenatal and postnatal services.

“We’re looking to support families (and women) during their pregnancies (and beyond) all with the aim that if people are given the best possible start, their health is improved,” said Salter.

And the BFI aligns with that goal.

“We began making a real concerted effort to get designation at the beginning of 2017,” she explained. “The timing was right … and looking at the indicators we realized we were (already) quite close to being able to achieve (the) Baby Friendly designation.”

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After applying for the designation, Chilliwack’s public health unit was thoroughly assessed by an external body who determines whether or not the unit’s policies and practices aligned with the 10 steps of the WHO initiative.

It’s “a very complex review of staff and families,” said Salter. “Every handout, all of our literature and care (was looked at).”

Finally, at the start of this year, the health unit was bestowed with the WHO’s Baby Friendly Initiative designation.

“It’s a testament to the hard work of our health unit,” stated Salter. “We were just really honoured to have the opportunity to have participated in (this process), and to work with community providers who also support Baby Friendly in the community.”

But to be clear, adds Salter, this isn’t just about breastfed babies, it’s about all babies.

“Fed is best. Baby Friendly is about respecting people’s feeding decisions (when it comes to their children).”

Our community is finally “in a place where we realize that feeding is a really personal decision, and from a health perspective we’re going to support breastfeeding when a (family) is able to, or formula feed. It’s important to not judge what we see, but support women and families in our communities,” finished Salter.

For more information about the Chilliwack public health unit’s Baby Friendly Initiative designation, or about the unit itself, visit its website at Fraserhealth.ca/service-directory/services/public-health-services/public-health-unit#.W7fOt1JRfOQ, or call 604-702-4906.


@SarahGawdin
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