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5 Tips To Effectively Communicate Your Hospital’s Breastfeeding Policy

Hospital workers smiling about effectively communicating breastfeeding policy.

Everyone thinks they understand Step One of the Ten Steps, which reads “Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.” Simple writing an air-tight breastfeeding policy won’t do you much good unless you can effectively communicate it.

Baby-Friendly committee members know they must write the policy. But they often overlook the “communicating” part of that step. Even those who have written a fairly good policy are often stumped when I ask “How do you plan to effectively communicate your policy to clients, staff, and your community?” Oops.

Before you dive in, you need a plan. Otherwise, you risk forgetting this part of the Step, or doing it hastily as an afterthought. And based on experience, I can tell you that just doesn’t work!

Here are 5 tips you can take to ensure the policy you work so hard to write will be communicated in an effective manner.

Start planning early

First, establish the purpose of the policy. Soon thereafter, start making notes about how you can effectively communicate it to your staff, your clients, and the other professionals or groups in your community.

Next, you or someone else should take charge of soliciting and recording ideas for how the communication might occur. This is a brainstorming list, not a contract; include anything and everything that occurs to you. Generate a long list of options. Decide later which options make sense.

Discuss how to communicate the new (or revised) breastfeeding policy

After you have your list, figure out which opportunities make the most sense. After that, write them all on a white board and talk about the pros and cons of each option. Consider methods, tone of the message, and the content of the message intended for each audience (internal or external, parent or professional). Think about whether the proposed message is likely to be decoded positively or negatively by the recipient.

Above all, you must communicate the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding by posting them in a highly visible place. Use a large poster in a location where everyone — staff and parents — can easily see it every single day. The wall across from the elevator is one of my favorite locations. Take advantage of every opportunity to get this information in front of people’s eyeballs!

Identify multiple methods for communication

As a staff nurse, there were times that I read a new policy, but was left unable to tell much of anything I gleaned from it. Yet, I felt no shame in signing that I had read the policy — because indeed I had!

The “read and sign” method isn’t effective. We’ve all become lax about this. When was the last time you actually read the whole “Terms & Conditions” of any web site before clicking the “I Agree” button?

Passively posting the policy to be read (at the nurse’s station, on the back of the restroom door, or even on the computer screen) isn’t very helpful; you need to effectively communicate it. Telling it is even more ineffective. Research in the education field has shown, over and over again, that passive learning doesn’t result in knowledge retention.

The word communication comes from the Latin word communicare, meaning “to share, divide out; join, unite, participate in.” In other words, “communicating” doesn’t mean issuing an edict and walking away. Plan for a two-way exchange of information. Be sure that information conveys the value of the policy.

Identify all internal and external stakeholders

Ask yourself: Who will be affected by your policy? Certainly, it must be effectively communicated to all of the hospital-based staff. It also has to be shared with other professionals in the community, especially the physicians, midwives, and other healthcare providers.

Effective communication of the policy to parents your hospital serves is very important. Anticipate everyone’s objections. If parents come to the hospital with inaccurate perceptions of your policy on an issue (rooming-in is usually a big one) they will likely — understandably — resist the policy.

Be sure to share it with other community stakeholders too. This may include such groups as local or state coalitions, departments of health, childbirth educators, doulas, WIC offices, La Leche League groups, community centers, and others who may be affected, for instance.

Repeat and reinforce communication

Set up a plan to effectively communicate of the policy to your audiences on multiple occasions, using a variety of methods.

Plan a “roll out and repeat” approach. In other words, don’t expect anyone to understand and comply with a new policy the first time you tell them about it. Change takes time.

Stay tuned, I’ll have much more to say about this later this summer! For more Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative posts, click here.

Your hospital has many different polices. What was effectively communicated? What hasn’t worked?

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