The promotion of health for mothers and children.
The Tuscan Regional Health Service is committed to ensuring that Tuscany – home to some of the world’s most beautiful places – is also a beautiful place for mothers to welcome their children into the world. In fact, every year more than 30,000 children, of many different nationalities, are born at twenty-four birth centers throughout the region.
From the promotion of breastfeeding to the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the Regional Health Service has implemented a series of initiatives aimed at ensuring that newborns and their mothers are cared for during the exciting and sensitive time surrounding birth.
By Alberto Zanobini
For example, after delivery and before returning home – a time that is full of unique emotions, but also questions that are not always easy to answer, especially if a family support network is not in place – new mothers are given, along with a pediatric booklet, a little “briefcase” with some items to help them care for their baby’s health that contains:
- a CD with lullabies and music suitable for infants
- the brochure Naturally Mother, with lots of practical advice on how to begin and continue breastfeeding
- a cotton onesie with a cartoon that shows how to position the infant safely for sleeping
- information leaflets on the donation of mother’s milk, the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and the prevention of hazards to the newborn
In fact, the Tuscany Region has been committed for many years to promoting breastfeeding, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Almost all women can breastfeed, if properly supported, and to promote this, the region has created a specific communication campaign called “Breastfeeding – what could be better?”
To facilitate a direct mother-child relationship and guarantee that mothers are supported in their personal choice to breastfeed or not, the Region has created a training course for professional breastfeeding counselors, who are there to assist and can be found at various regional clinics and birth centers. In cases where there is a medical contraindication to breastfeeding, infant formula is provided free of charge. Then, for mothers who are unable to provide their own breast milk to their infants, a network of breast milk banks is available and supplied with donations from mothers who have it in abundance.
The Regional Agency of Health has been involved in the monitoring of breastfeeding through various investigations in collaboration with the Meyer Children’s Hospital since 2002, and data regarding the prevalence of breastfeeding and discharge from birth centers has been collected since 2008.
The results of the last survey conducted at vaccine centers in 2010 show that the prevalence of exclusive breastfeeding upon discharge from birth centers is 76%, up from 71% in 2005 and 66% in 2002. At the time of the first vaccination in the 2nd-3rd month of life, 56% of children have been exclusively breast-fed, while at the second vaccination, in the 4th-6th month of life, corresponding to the age of weaning, this percentage drops to 31%.
These investigations also estimate the proportion of children who are positioned for sleep in the supine position, the recommended position for preventing SIDS. SIDS has a very low incidence (around 0.2 per 1000) in Tuscany but is, after perinatal pathological conditions and congenital malformations, the single most frequent cause of death in the first year of life. The percentage of children who sleep in the supine position increased from 55% in 2004 to 72% in 2010.
These trends are a good indication that the efforts of the Tuscan Regional Health Service to support mothers and their children are functioning as hoped and that Tuscany is not only a great place in which to live and to visit, but also a great place to be born.
Alberto lives and works in Florence. He graduated in Law from the University of Florence, and also earned Master’s degrees from the University of Padua, the Scuola Superiore S. Anna in Pisa, and the Bocconi University in Milan. As a public official, he has been responsible for the development of human resources and communication in public health systems for twenty years. He has been a member of the Steering Committee of the “Health and Management” Laboratory, a center for managerial training instituted by the Tuscany Region and the Scuola Superiore S. Anna in Pisa, appointed by the Ministry of Health as an expert member in the “National Commission on Continuing Medical Education”, and responsible, on behalf of the Tuscany Region, for institutional relations with the World Health Organization. For two years he was the Head of Cabinet of the Tuscany Region’s Councilor for Health, Daniela Scaramuccia. He is currently the Executive Director of the Research, Innovation and Human Resources Sector (Directorate General for Citizenship and Social Cohesion – Tuscany Region).