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9 Effective Ways to Communicate Your Breastfeeding Policy, Part 1

It is important to communicate your breastfeeding policy to all health care staff.

The first of the “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding,” the lynchpin of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, reads: “Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.”

It’s common for health care providers to focus on the first part of that — making sure they have a written breastfeeding policy, and writing one if they don’t — and far less on the second. Although most spend many hours on developing such a policy, they tend to spend just minutes figuring out how they’ll communicate the breastfeeding policy to staff.

Many rely on the “read and sign.” It doesn’t tend to work well. But what does?

Ideally, you and your team should brainstorm ideas for how to communicate the new policy; you know your staff, and your facility, best. But if you need a starting point, here are some ideas that might help.

1. Think of policy communication as a program, not a one-time event

After all, step 1 calls for the policy to be “routinely communicated.” That’s because policies are sets of rules, and repeating rules helps to ensure they are followed. If a parent insists that a child must brush his teeth every night before he goes to bed, he soon understands – and probably complies with — this frequently-uttered rule.

It’s harder to remember policies that are presented only once, or very rarely. This is why elementary schools have students go through fire drill practices every month. Consistent and repeated communication of your breastfeeding policy to staff about what they are supposed to do helps ensure success.

2. Focus on behavior changes

Clinical vignettes are a great way to do this. Recall a situation that happened recently. Re-tell the story in a few sentences. Pose some questions related to the behaviors mentioned in the policy. Ask staff what they would do.

Remember that the breastfeeding policy must be communicated to ALL health care staff. This seems obvious, but in my experience, the per diem staff often fall through the cracks.

Be sure to communicate the link between policy and external rules and regulations. Consider creating a poster or other visual material to show how your facility’s new or revised breastfeeding policy is congruent with previously-existing external mandates or public health initiatives or goals.

I suggest creating two columns, one showing the external mandates, and the other showing how the new policy meets each one. Staff often benefit from seeing that the new policy isn’t just a whim for you, another administrator, or the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Rather, the policy is one element of a larger picture that supports maternal-child and public health.

3. Consider your tone and language

Your policy conveys some serious information, and it should be taken seriously. However, a good dose of humor or lightheartedness often helps gain staff attention and cooperation.

“Potty Pages,” hung on the back of the restroom door, help to ensure that everyone sees a message. They shouldn’t be serious; in fact, the very best way to accomplish this is with the use of cartoons. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you might have an amateur cartoonist on your staff who would be willing to create one.

You can also look for some public-domain cartoons, or ask permission to reprint copyrighted cartoons. If money is not an object, commission a few cartoons! If done in good taste, a good cartoon on the back of the restroom door lends a humorous note to a serious topic.

The bottom line? When you plan how to communicate your breastfeeding policy, make sure to go beyond “read and sign.” Having recurring communication about your policy, focusing on clinical behavior changes (not just the “words” of the policy), and using more than one approach to tone and language will set you up to effectively communicate your policy.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 for practical tips on how truly engage your staff as you communicate your policy. You can also find more BFHI posts here.

Meanwhile, tell me: What strategies have helped you to communicate a breastfeeding policy? otherwise?

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