NHS Western Isles has been awarded the prestigious Baby Friendly Award and is the latest UK healthcare facility to win international recognition from Unicef (United Nation’s Children’s Fund).

The award was presented to both hospital and community divisions during Breastfeeding Awareness Week this week at Western Isles Hospital Maternity Department.

“We decided to join forces with Unicef UK’s Baby Friendly Initiative to increase breastfeeding rates and to improve care for all mothers in the Western Isles,” said Catherine MacDonald, NHS Western Isles Head of Midwifery.

“Breastfeeding protects babies against a wide range of serious illnesses including gastroenteritis and respiratory infections in infancy as well as asthma, cardiovascular disease and diabetes in later life. We also know that breastfeeding reduces the mother’s risk of some cancers. Breast feeding is also easier, cheaper and simply less hassle than bottle feeding.

“But however a mother chooses to feed her baby, she can be sure that she will be supported to form a strong loving relationship with her newborn by NHS Western Isles staff – through having maximum skin to skin contact and understanding how her baby communicates with her and needs her to respond.”

The Baby Friendly Initiative, set up by Unicef and the World Health Organization, is a global programme which provides a practical and effective way for health services to improve the care provided for all mothers and babies. In the UK, the initiative works with UK public services to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding and to strengthen mother-baby and family relationships. Support for these relationships is important for all babies, not only those who are breastfed. The award is given to hospitals and community teams after an assessment by a Unicef team has shown that recognised best practice standards are in place.

The awards to hospital and community staff were presented to NHS Western Isles on Tuesday, June 23, by Theresa McElhone, Unicef Baby Friendly Initiative Professional Lead for Scotland.

She stated: “I am delighted to be here today to present these Baby Friendly awards to NHS Western Isles. It is evident the huge efforts that have been made here, in getting all staff updated and knowledgeable in the revised Breastfeeding Standards. This is a huge achievement for NHS Western Isles, which now joins a number of other areas in Scotland that are fully Baby Friendly accredited.”

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson, also attended the presentation. He commented: “These awards are the outcome of a lot of hard work by our staff, who have, and continue to, demonstrate genuine commitment and determination to achieve high standards of care and support.

“Surveys show us that most mothers want to breastfeed but don’t always get the support they need. Mothers throughout the Western Isles can be confident that their midwives and health visitors are committed to providing high standards of care.”