UNICEF UK arranged a first ever breastfeeding conference focused on “Parents’ Experiences of Neonatal Units”. I was invited to speak along with Dr Shoo Lee, the originator of “Family Intergrated Care Model” for NICU care in Canada; and Dr Paula Meier, world expert and researcher on human milk feeding in the NICU. It was a privilege hearing them speak on their past and their current research.

Sue Ashmore presented the new “standards” together with Caroline Davey from Bliss. There were two particular things that I liked. The standards cover facility issues, staff education issues and parent needs, detailing the requirements and the processes needed to be Baby Friendly. In every standard directed to every category there is a repeated phrase “Support parents to have a close and loving relationship with their baby”. This may be specially poignant in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, where this can be more easily said than done. Neverthless, it is the first standard for neonatal units, being the last in all the others. But superfically such a statement looks more like poetry than the clinical evidence based medicine that we think we would like to practice in a hospital. So I made a point of describing the Neuroscience of Birth and Breastfeeding in such a way as to highlight that the repeated phrase is indeed a very good summary of modern understanding of developmental neuroscience. THIS LINK takes you to a download of the slides, see page 21. The “close and loving relationship” is central to a secure attachment, which predicts subsequent health outcomes over the life span. One of my key messages has always been that this starts at birth, and breastfeeding is the “engine” that drives this.

The full standards can be downloaded here, and as a bureaucratic kind of document, it has a remarkable requirement for re-accreditation, namely innovation! Usually, bureaucracy is very square and unimaginitive, innovation is unimaginable … but not here! (See page 3 and 37-38). I am confident this will make a difference for breastfeeding and health.