Marie's Outlook

Need Help Writing a Breastfeeding Policy? 5 Questions to Consider  

“We’re planning to submit our hospital’s breastfeeding policy to Baby-Friendly USA,” I often hear. “If they don’t like it, they’ll help us fix it, right?”

Although I used to be the president of Baby-Friendly USA’s Board of Directors, I am no longer affiliated with the organization, so I don’t have the official answer. I do have five questions for any hospital staffer who’s asking this question.

How much help can you expect, really? Baby-Friendly USA posts the Guidelines and Criteria available on its site. But there are hundreds of hospitals trying to achieve the Baby-Friendly designation at any time. Thinking that a Baby-Friendly staffer will be available to provide extended, individualized guidance for you as you prepare your hospital’s policy isn’t realistic. It’s not part of the mission statement!

Baby-Friendly’s role is to determine whether your hospital has met criteria. I don’t think you can expect it to be seriously involved in your organization’s internal policy development.

What help do you need? No one is born with the ability to write an effective hospital policy. It’s a skill that’s developed over time, through reading many articles, having experience and plenty of practice. It’s more than just sitting down and putting words on paper. 

I’ve reviewed dozens of hospital breastfeeding policies. All too often, these documents—which should be guiding hospital practices for mothers and babies in its care—are little more than statements of philosophy or run-on lists of instructions.

When I meet with nurses and hospital staff about policy development, I begin by unraveling the differences between policy, procedure, and protocol. Few, if any, hospital-based leaders know those distinctions. Worse still, they take a “kitchen sink” approach to the policy, throwing everything into the document they present as policy. But a bunch of strung-together facts, directives, steps, etc. is not a policy, and staff can’t follow it—nor can I.  And, you can can bet, the assessors of Baby-Friendly USA can’t follow it, either.

Who knows your staff? Your clients? Other factors? It’s unthinkable to me that anyone could help you write your hospital’s policy if they lacked a fundamental understanding of your system’s ins and outs, its leaders, its staff and—most of all—its clients.

This is true of any organization. Here’s an example. My small business (Breastfeeding Outlook) has a policy for corporate advertising, one that sets parameters for telecommuting employees, one for securing business documents at the end of the day, and more. No one would think they could carry my policies over to the massage therapist, accountant, or psychiatrist in my office complex and apply them unchanged. Although all of us run small businesses and have common concerns—advertising, staffing, and security, to name just a few—we are all very different. So too are hospitals. Yet too often people think a one-size-fits-all approach to breastfeeding policy will work. Huh?

How would such “help” help, anyway? An effective helper would need an understanding of the gaps between your current state and your ideal state—or such a helper would do what it takes to gain that understanding before trying to help.

Remember, your policy is the basis for achieving your hospital’s goals for best breastfeeding practices. You’re not writing this just to “check the box” and say you have a policy. It’s not to suit the Baby-Friendly folks, or even to achieve the designation! The end-game of writing a policy is to achieve excellence in clinical practice. The Baby-Friendly designation is just one way of recognizing excellence in clinical practice!

A policy must breathe life into clinical practices; it must be seen as more than just a piece of paper.

Can you revisit your ideas about hospital policy? There are a number of reasons you might need a policy: legal standards, gaining credibility, establishing criteria for discipline, or even improving productivity and operations. But at the end of the day, the most noble purpose of a hospital policy is to ensure consistent, excellent clinical outcomes for mothers and babies in your care.

Unless you write a policy that your staff understands and values, it won’t be carried out and clinical excellence won’t be achieved. A quick talk with a Baby-Friendly USA staffer won’t change that. If you’re sure you need help, find someone experienced in and focused on the process, rather than the assessment.

Are you struggling with writing your breastfeeding policy? What’s on your mind? What question can I answer for you? Drop me a note in the comments section below! (And if you want more information like this, click the SUBSCRIBE button!) 

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