Irena Zakarija-Grković, MD, FRACGP, IBCLC, is a GP and passionate breastfeeding advocate from Melbourne, Australia who moved to Split, Croatia in 2004 with her husband and three children. Irena now works at the University of Split School of Medicine where she is involved in teaching and research. Irena is a founding member of the National Breastfeeding Committee, a BFHI educator, president of the Croatian Association of Lactation Consultants, 80-hour breastfeeding course provider, former IBLCE coordinator for Croatia and an active member of ILCA (volunteer member of Scholarship Committee and Multilingual Committee)and ABM. She also conducts breastfeeding classes for expectant parents, does some private practice as a lactation consultant and is the author of several chapters in Croatian on breastfeeding . Irena loves what she does and tries hard to infect others with her enthusiasm for breastfeeding.

Back in 2007, I was a fortunate recipient of an ILCA scholarship and so, thanks to the generosity of numerous friends of ILCA, I was able to attend my first ILCA Conference, held in San Diego, California.

It was an exhilarating experience and among the many interesting talks I attended, the one that stood out was the talk given by Nils Bergman, on the importance of skin-to-skin contact for brain growth. After the presentation I struck up a conversation with Nils and soon found out that Nils traveled to Europe regularly to visit family in Sweden. Immediately, the thought of Nils visiting Croatia came to mind but seemed too farfetched to mention at the time, so I left San Diego with some lovely memories and lots of useful information and resources.

Upon returning to Split, I realised that unless I tried to bring top experts to Croatia the likelihood of my colleagues hearing about the latest recommendations in the field of breastfeeding medicine was minimal, and hence I set about making plans on how to bring the exciting world of evidence-based breastfeeding medicine to Croatia. This wouldn’t have been possible without collaborating with neighbouring Slovenia, specifically the Slovenian Association of Lactation Consultants and UNICEF in Slovenia. Together we’ve brought several renowned speakers to our neck of the woods over the years and by doing so have raised the awareness of the importance of breastfeeding. This, in addition to organizing an annual 80-hour breastfeeding course for health professionals (5 years running) and getting the IBLCE exam translated into Croatian and offered in Split (since 2009), has brought the number of certified lactation consultants in Croatia from one in 2007 to 21 in 2011!

This year, for WBW, the Croatian Association of Lactation Consultants (CALC) was honoured to welcome Nils Bergman to Croatia. My dream had come true- thanks to Nils’s trust in me, his generosity of spirit, and to the support of my Croatian and Slovenian colleagues. Nils’s tour started off with a two-day visit to sunny Split where he was run off his feet meeting the media, giving talks to health professionals and demonstrating to mothers and staff at the University of Split Neonatal Unit how to practice kangaroo mother care.

The latter was the highlight of Nils’s visit because it brought home the importance of placing the baby in its proper environment, the beauty of which brought tears to the eyes of all present. For some mothers with babies in the Neonatal Unit, it was the first time they had held their children. The media were so impressed with what Nils had to say on the topic of caring for premature babies that he made the midday news and was featured on four other TV programs!

  Next, Nils spoke in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, to a full house at the Hospital of the Holy Spirit and was then whisked off to Lasko, in Slovenia, where he was an eagerly awaited speaker at the Slovenian breastfeeding symposium.

Despite all the work involved in organising Nils’s visit, it was well worth the effort and has brought hope, joy and revelation to all those he met. Thanks Nils and good luck with all of your endeavours in promoting kangaroo mother care!


  1. Lynn Duffy 14 November 2011 at 22:25 #

    This is a great article , giving lots of support & enthusiasm for Skin to Skin. I am looking for printed articles by Nils Bergman about both the safety of Skin to Skin and how it promotes baby’s brain growth. Would you have either of these in the refreences from Nils presentation? Thanks, Lynn

    • Irena Zakarija-Grkovic 23 November 2011 at 07:57 #

      Hi Lynn,
      Thanks for your comment and question.
      Here are some references provided by Nils:
      The “kangaroo-method” for treating low birth weight babies in a developing country.
      Bergman N, Jurisoo A.
      Tropical Doctor, April 1994, 24: 57-60.
      Kangaroo Mother Care in the Nursery.
      Kirsten GF, Bergman NJ, Hann FM.
      Pediatric Clinics of North America, 2001 Vol 48(2) 443 – 454
      Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants.
      Anderson GC, Moore E, Hepworth JT, Bergman N.
      The Cochrane Library, April, 2003. Oxford.
      RCT of skin-to-skin contact from birth versus conventional incubator care for physiological stabilisation in 1200- and 2199-gram newborns.
      Bergman NJ, Linley LL, Fawcus SR.
      Acta Paediatrica 2004 Vol 93(6); 779-785
      Kangaroo mother care in low-income countries.
      Adriano Cattaneo, Riccardo Davanzo, Nils Bergman Nathalie Charpak.
      Journal of Tropical Paediatrics 1998; 44: 279- 282.
      Introducing kangaroo-mother care.
      Pedmed 1998 Sept/Oct: 9-10
      Making newborn care work
      Child Health Dialogue 1998, Issue 11:p4.
      Kangaroo Mother Care
      Hann M, Malan A, Kronson M, Bergman N, Huskisson R.
      South African Medical Journal, 1999 Vol 89; 37-40
      Other articles on SSC are available from Nils’s website:
      Also, the book ‘Holding your prem’ is fully referenced.
      Hope this helps. Good luck!

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