Malaysian hospitals urged to be baby-friendly

PUTRAJAYA - More private hospitals should expand their services to include baby- friendly facilities.

Of the more than 200 private hospitals, only eight are recognised as baby-friendly, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Liow Tiong Lai yesterday.

"All 139 government and two military hospitals nationwide are baby-friendly, but only eight private hospitals are baby-friendly.

"In many other countries, it is the private sector that drives this initiative, but that is not so in Malaysia," he said at the launch of World Breastfeeding Week 2012.

Dr Liow said a baby-friendly hospital was committed to encouraging every mother to breastfeed her baby, supported by the necessary facilities and information.

He also said nurses and other support staff would be trained to offer support and advice to new mothers on how to breastfeed.

Among the criteria for a baby-friendly hospital are a breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff, personnel and staff with the necessary skills, encouraging newborns to drink only breast milk unless medically indicated, a rooming-in practice for mothers and their infants, encouraging breastfeeding on demand, not providing artificial teats or pacifiers (dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants, and support groups for mothers to refer to when they are discharged.

Liow said in 1998, Malaysia became the third country in the world -- after Sweden and Oman -- to have all its government hospitals certified baby-friendly.

"Today, only 23.3 per cent of babies in the country are exclusively breastfed. We still have a very low rate for exclusive breastfeeding (meaning that the baby is not given any other food or drink apart from breast milk) in the first six months," Dr Liow added.

Breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of an infant's life, played a critical role in preventing illness and death from diarrhoea and pneumonia, two of the most common causes of childhood illness and mortality, said Dr Liow.

"As we renew commitments to childhood survival, accelerating and scaling up programmes to improve breastfeeding practices must be a priority for all."