WHO WE ARE

The Hospital Infant Feeding Network (HIFN) was set up in 2018 and consists of a network of health professionals interested in supporting and facilitating breastfeeding and lactation in a hospital setting in the United Kingdom. We have a steering committee, which decides what activities we should focus on. Current co-chairs are Victoria Thomas and Ilana Levene. All are welcome to become active within HIFN, and we welcome collaboration with other organisations, as long as they are independent of the infant formula industry and adhere to the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk substitutes. Although most of our steering group are doctors of all specialties, we seek to serve all hospital health professionals.

This quote from Unicef report "From the First Hour of Life" inspires us: 

"While breastfeeding is a personal relationship between mother and baby, it is not a one-woman job. It requires a wider network of support from families, communities, workplaces and the health system, as well as government leadership, to really make it work. We must recognize that building breastfeeding-friendly policies, health systems, workplaces and communities is everyone’s responsibility"

 

"Most mothers will tell you that breastfeeding can be a challenging skill to learn; health-care workers skilled in lactation counselling are needed to provide guidance and support to new or struggling mothers. Hospitals should also protect, promote and support breastfeeding."

WHAT WE DO

Our Goals are:

  • To support and promote a hospital culture in which breastfeeding and lactation is understood to be the biological norm, breastfeeding and lactation are protected when medical intervention is necessary for either the parent or the child, and breastfeeding/lactation is well supported by, and for, all hospital staff

  • To form knowledge-sharing networks and encourage multidisciplinary working between hospital healthcare professionals of all disciplines, including lactation professionals

  • To bring the voice of the breastfeeding family into the hospital

  • To increase awareness and medical knowledge of issues relating to infant and young child feeding in hospital healthcare professionals of all disciplines

  • To promote evidence-based feeding practices and methods of supporting parents and babies/young children, unbiased by commercial interest

  • To encourage partnership between community and hospital settings, so that families have a seamless experience of feeding support

Our Priority Areas for action are:

Facilitating breastfeeding and lactation where either the parent or the child dyad is admitted to hospital, including knowledge of prescribing safety and a focus on keeping the two together. This will cover both support for breastfeeding and lactation when the medical issue is unrelated to feeding, and maximising the potential for long-term human milk feeding when the medical issue is related to feeding.

 

Educating health professionals on key principles underlying breastfeeding and lactation:

  • Protecting milk supply and infant feeding skills where either member of the dyad is unwell

  • Common pitfalls putting breastfeeding and lactation at risk in the first 72 hours of life

  • Understanding normal infant and young child behaviour and sleep

  • Challenging cultural assumptions about the difficulty of breastfeeding and lactation

 

Availability and proper funding of both feeding specialists and appropriately trained and supervised peer supporters in hospitals, with particular focus on non-maternity/neonatal settings that are currently poorly supported. It should not be assumed that professionals and peer supporters experienced in community breastfeeding and lactation support will be able to provide hospital support without further training.

Ensuring that health professionals, and their associations and organisations, are free from conflicts of interest through funding or non financial benefits from the breastmilk substitute industry, including the connected industries defined by the WHO International Code of marketing of breastmilk substitutes. 

BACKGROUND

The World Health Organisation advises that parents exclusively breastfeed their babies until 6 months of age, and breastfeed alongside complementary food until at least the age of 2 years. Breastfeeding, or chestfeeding as some refer to it, has many health and economic impacts for both parent and baby. Although initiation rates in the UK are relatively high, exclusive breastfeeding/chestfeeding drops below 50% by one week of age, and any breastfeeding/chestfeeding drops below 50% by 4 months of age. The vast majority of parents would have liked to breastfeed/chestfeed for longer than they do. Increasing breastfeeding/chestfeeding in the UK is one of the most powerful public health tools available, with knock-on effects on the economy. This will require a multifaceted approach at all levels – focusing on both the dyad and wider society.

 

With the advent of the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative (BFI) in 1995, and subsequently the National Infant Feeding Network (NIFN), maternity, neonatal and community settings have been improving their support for families in pregnancy and after birth, although less than two thirds of births in England take place in fully accredited locations (this is much better in the devolved nations). However professionals in the rest of the hospital and other health settings have variable understanding of breastfeeding and lactation, despite their impact on child feeding and nutrition. For example, 30% of paediatric doctors in one UK hospital did not agree that breastfeeding is the most beneficial form of nutrition in the first 6 months of life, and over 50% felt inadequately trained to manage breastfeeding when they encounter it.

 

In 2016, the GP Infant Feeding Network (GPIFN) was set up in order to improve infant feeding support by General Practitioners, and this arena showed that there is a significant appetite and unmet need in this area not only from GPs, but also hospital professionals. Therefore a group of hospital professionals active in GPIFN decided to form a sister network, the Hospital Infant Feeding Network (HIFN), to cover infant and young child feeding in the hospital setting. From the moment of inception we have reached out to families, the lay organisations active in the lactation field and lactation professionals, in order to work in partnership.