Singapore's Health Promotion Board (HPB) will be providing more information on the benefits of giving birth in hospitals certified under the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) as part of the Government's initiative for private hospitals to advocate for breastfeeding practices.

Through online and print collaterals aimed at expectant mothers, the campaign will be held over the next few weeks, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on 29 June.

BFHI-certified hospitals actively encourage and support breastfeeding, and are barred from sponsorship arrangements with formula milk companies.

This comes after a report by the Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) in May, stating that infant-formula prices saw a spike in recent years due to aggressive tactics used by formula milk manufacturers to establish consume loyalty and increase prices.

This included payments and sponsorships to private hospitals for participation in their milk rotation programmes, where a particular brand is set as the default formula for a period of time for infants who need formula.

Private hospitals are looking to obtain BFHI-certification

Dr Khor and Jurong GRC MP Rahayu Mahzam toured KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) on 29 June, to highlight its practices as a BFHI-certified hospital, which include breastfeeding counselling for expectant mothers and skin-to-skin contact between baby and mother within five minutes of delivery.

KKH, which attained BFHI certification in 2014, saw its rates of exclusive breastfeeding discharge increase from 75% in 2013 to 85% in 2016.

All three public hospitals offering maternity services ̶ KKH, National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital ̶ are BFHI certified but only account for 42% of the births, according to statistics in 2015.

None of the seven private hospitals offering maternity services here are BFHI-certified and account for almost 60% of births. However, Mount Alvernia, Thomson Medical and Raffles Hospital have mentioned in may that they are working towards it.

Parkway Pantai, which oversees Mount Elizabeth, Mount Elizabeth Novena, Gleneagles and Parkway East hospitals, said it would review and align its practices given the CCS recommendations.

BFHI-certification is important to curb formula milk prices

Tobe BFHI-certified, 10 steps to encourage breastfeeding – such as promoting skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby at birth, training relevant healthcare professionals to help mothers breast feed successfully and conducting childbirth education classes to focus on the benefits of breastfeeding, have to be implemented.

Both Dr Khor and Ms Rahayu are part of a task force led by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon to ensure that key measures to address the high prices of formula milk are implemented by the end of the year.

These include tightening regulations on labelling and advertising, facilitation imports of more formula milk options and encouraging good practices in hospitals.

Increasing awareness around the benefits of BFHI-certified hospitals is one of the methods, which will also help parents to make better informed decisions and create the demand for private hospitals to implement such certification, said Ms Rahayu.

"This is one of the many measures being taken to lower the price of formula milk. Having the necessary (breastfeeding) support is important in reducing the cost and dependence on infant milk formula," she added. MIMS

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