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BFHI UNICEF Neonatal Conference reviewed by Mairead O’Sullivan

Having attended several previous BFHI UNICEF Conference physically I was enthusiastic as ever to attend this virtual conference. As a neonatal nurse IBCLC this conference gives a chance to see what other specialist are doing in their areas both in the UK and abroad working to increase neonatal breastfeeding practices. Working currently in the Irish maternity healthcare system it was way of looking at what we can do as IBCLC’s in Irish neonatal services to develop our practices towards BFHI standards.


The Conference was easy to register for through the organisations although registration did close 5 days beforehand so limited lastminute decision to attend. It was indicated at times throughout the conference and in the closing speeches almost 1,000 participants had registered from the event which has to show a hugely positive multi professional interest in healthcare professionals in continuing to develop breastfeeding support in line with BFHI standards specifically in Neonatal Units.


With a jam-packed agenda for 9am until 5pm consisting for 13 various speakers there was something for everyone to focus on, for purposes of review I truly found it difficult to pick a specific speaker and could have easily written about all topics covered. I decided as I work in a unit looking to change its structure and develop its breastfeeding support focus, I took particular attention to the following 3 speakers which I will discussion briefly what is each highlighted.


Renée Flacking, Professor in Paediatric Nursing, Dalarna University, Sweden “Positive breastfeeding experiences and facilitating factors” This speaker was one of the earlier in the day speakers and spoke passionately about the practices in Swedish neonatal units where rooming in and family centre care is at the paramount NICU/SCBU. Babies nursed all in single rooms where both parents or one parent were encouraged to say with their new-born and be involved in the care from the time of admission to NICU. This practices really encourages BFHI and WHO standards of rooming in, encouraging bonding, skin to skin, breastmilk expression or breastfeeding from the earliest possible stage, on occasions when mum needs specialist care she maybe cared for in a different ward, but partners are then encouraged to stay with new-born. This is something to be looked at in Irish healthcare as some maternity facilities look at upgrading their neonatal units should be aiming to implement. Renée was highly informative about how practices could be developed but also highlighted the comparison to neonatal nurse shortages in the UK to Sweden where they are adequately staff to facilitate this fantastic model of care.


Dr Sarah Bates, Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist, PERIPrem Operational Clinical Lead (SW England), BAPM & CRG Representative for LNU & SCU (UK), Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Spoke on “Improving survival and outcomes for preterm infants through optimising early maternal breastmilk: A QI toolkit from BAPM.’   Dr Bates spoke very passionately about the work her team have done in implementing the first stage of the BAPM Quality improvement toolkit ‘optimising early maternal breastmilk for preterm infant’ whilst discussing the teams current work in the finalising the next stage of the toolkit, due for release later in 2021. She spoke about how they implemented the plan with a focus on obtaining early maternal breastmilk for preterm infants, recognising that not enough neonatal infants receive breastmilk from the start of their feeding journey. Her quote by Bo Jackson “set your goals high and don’t stop til you get there” really rings out to me the passion of her and her team. The focus on the discussion was to have Maternal Expressed Breastmilk / Colostrum available for preterm babies as soon as possible. The concept of Antenatal harvesting of colostrum was discussed at a much earlier stage than what some recommendations now quote as 36+weeks GA. Sarah’s team speaks about addressing mothers in pending inevitable preterm deliveries an encouraging the establishment of hand expression of antenatal colostrum along with early support once baby(s) are born in establish collection of colostrum and breastmilk. The current 2020 toolkit if fully downloadable and accessible for all to review and having reviewed it after the conference I could see this is in being an extremely beneficial toolkit for all neonatal units in encouraging maternal breastmilk of preterm infants starting from antenatal discussion. I could honestly have listened to Sarah for a lot longer and look forward to hearing about the next stage of the toolkit.


Prof Paul Clarke, Consultant Neonatologist/ Honorary Professor, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust & University of East Anglia lecture on ‘Delivery room cuddles for extremely preterm babies and parents . Although this speaker was one of the last of the day his discussion on the concept of offering Cuddles to new-born extreme preterm baby’s immediately after intubation/ stabilisation rang home a lot of thoughts with me. It was an extremely inspiring thought-provoking talk knowing that preterm babies are generally at their most stable immediately after delivery and that this could in fact be the most joyous memory that these parents may be able to have with their new-born or the only cuddle they may have for several weeks and days recognising its importance for maternal wellbeing and aiding in the recovering from the shock associated with preterm delivery. Prof Clarke highlights the idealism of having a well-trained team available in order to facilitate this initial cuddle with no focus on duration of cuddle only that baby is respiratory stable, and parents are allowed that initial chance to bond with their new-born before neonatal admission. Prof Clarke user of service user stories throughout his presentation and conclusion draws reality on the families who thank s to this concept are now benefiting hugely and along in some circumstances their preterm infant may not have lived for long that memory of the initial cuddles lives on forever. A truly inspiring speaker.


Mairead O’Sullivan July 2021. 

Mairead received a bursary of €100 from ALCI to attend the online BFHI UNICEF Neonatal Conference.

Further Reading


Presenting at the ILCA 2023 In-person Conference in Las Vegas:  A Personal Account


ILCA 2023 Conference Presentation: Building Policy Coalitions


WHO/Unicef Congress