Singaporean pregnant mums scheduled to deliver in 2012 may be able to do so in maternity wards certified 'baby-friendly' by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) is aiming to have the National University Hospital (NUH) and one other maternity hospital here achieve WHO's Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) certification by the end of the year, and three other major hospitals to be similarly certified by 2014.
Towards this end, HPB is working with the maternity wards to implement the BFHI guidelines, which encourage breastfeeding to improve the health of neo-natal infants.
These guidelines include helping mothers exclusively breastfeed by supporting them before birth, during their hospital stay and after they are discharged.
According to the results from HPB's National Breastfeeding Survey 2011, nine out of 10 mothers know that breastfeeding is the best form of nourishment for newborns.
While most try to initiate breastfeeding after birth, just 50 per cent continue to do so exclusively after being discharged from the hospital, and only 30 per cent will do so for at least two months, HPB said.
Fewer still are breastfeeding by the time they return to work after 16 weeks.
These figures are low compared to developed Asian countries like South Korea, where 50 per cent of mothers breastfeed exclusively for at least two months, HPB said.
HPB said that studies have shown that the ability to breastfeed successfully in the first few days after birth is directly linked to how long the mothers continue to breastfeed.
In addition, Mr Ang Hak Seng, Chief Executive Officer of HPB, said that many mothers stop breastfeeding because they do not know how to maintain a constant supply of breast milk and believe erroneously that they cannot produce enough milk for their child.
The WHO guidelines will address these concerns.
Currently, services such as facilitating skin-to-skin contact during the first hour after delivery and a formula-free infant diet are available upon request by the mother.
However, with the implementation of the BFHI, maternity services will be required to follow a standard operating procedure, which includes disallowing milk companies to sponsor free formula at the hospitals.
According to medical experts, mothers can establish a more regular supply of milk by breastfeeding within an hour after child-birth, feeding on demand and avoiding infant formula supplements unless they are medically required.
To support mothers when they are discharged, HPB is also working with partners to set up hotlines and one-on-one counselling services for mothers experiencing breastfeeding problems.
The five hospitals HPB is working with now are NUH, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), Singapore General Hospital (SGH), Mount Alvernia Hospital and Thomson Medical Centre. These five hospitals account for 80 per cent of the births in Singapore.