What is a Baby-Friendly Hospital? What does the designation mean? And how can it help you?
These are common questions mothers and fathers have when choosing the hospital or birthing center that will care for them during the birth of their child. Some new parents are fortunate enough to be able to choose between facilities, while others are restricted due to insurance or location to just one or two options – or opt to have their bundle of joy at home. While all are valid choices, there is something else to consider when making your choice, if the choice is your’s to make.
Is your Hospital Baby-Friendly?
As of this writing, there are 468 Designated Baby-Friendly Hospitals and birthing centers across all 50 States, The District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
If you want to know if your hospital is on the list, you can check here.
So what does it actually mean to be Baby Friendly?
A hospital or birthing facility that has received the Baby-Friendly Designation has adopted and agreed to follow The 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, along with compliance to the International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes.
The 10 steps to Successful Breastfeeding are:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff. In a Baby-Friendly Hospital, ALL babies are considered breastfed babies until the family specifically requests otherwise. The Facility will have a clear and written policy in place that lays our their plan to follow all 10 Steps, as well as the International Code of Marketing Breast-Milk Substitutes (formula). Please understand, despite what you may have heard, you CAN formula feed your infant in a Baby-Friendly Facility if you so choose, but it is their job to provide education and opportunity to establish a good breastfeeding relationship between you and your newborn.
- Train all health care staff in the skills necessary to implement this policy. Any and all health care staff that may interact or come in contact with a breastfeeding dyad will be aware of this policy and have received special training in order to help facilitate the best breastfeeding relationship possible, either by direct instruction to you, or referral to a Breastfeeding Professional.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding. One of the greatest hurdles to establishing successful breastfeeding is a lack of knowledge. This step aims to solve that issue by providing that information when you need it most – when you are pregnant. Read: Should you take a breastfeeding class?
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth. Another translation of this step is simply, “Place babies in skin to skin contact with their mother’s chest immediately following birth – for at least one hour.” This skin-to-skin contact encourages breastfeeding in the most natural and direct way possible. Sometimes known as the ‘Golden Hour’ – this time is special and unique, a moment when hormones are flooding both baby and mom, ones nature imbued us with to breastfeed. When you see videos of a ‘breast crawl’ it is during this special hour directly after birth. If you haven’t seen a video of one yet, you can view this one, presented by UNICEF. Please be aware that this content clearly shows a woman’s breasts and nipples. This step aplies to ALL babies delivered in a Baby-Friendly Hospital, no matter the feeding choice. Skin-to-skin benefits every baby/mother dyad, even if not used to help encourage breastfeeding.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants. Baby-friendly hospitals help teach you not only how to initiate nursing, but how to KEEP nursing – and what to do if your baby is separated from you, either by circumstance or health issues, like the NICU.
- Give infants no food or drink other than breast-milk, unless medically indicated. Unless you specifically ask for your baby to be given formula or explain that you will NOT be breastfeeding, then breastmilk is the expected nourishment from birth to discharge, with the exception of medical need.
- Practice rooming in – allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day. You may have heard that some facilities are either eliminating nurseries or designating their use for medical intervention only – this is why. Many studies have shown that proximity, along with skin-to-skin contact increases breastfeeding rates. As an added bonus, you’ll start to recognize those early stage hunger cues. Instead of going to the nursery, either for tests or rest, your baby will be with you in your room.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand. This is now interpreted as ‘Encourage feeding on demand’ – no matter the feeding choice, babies are hungry when they are hungry, period. Holding them close, skin-to-skin and making eye contact encourages bonding. Learning to recognize hunger cues (hunger cues apply to all feeding methods) and nurse when those cues first appear is an important step in forming a successful breastfeeding relationship. Health Care Staff at a Baby-Friendly Facility will assist you noticing those cues and help you learn when you should be nursing, – and offer plenty of encouragement along the way!
- Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants. Heath Care Staff will educate breastfeeding mothers and families that the introduction of bottle and artificial nipples can interfere with the establishment of breastfeeding and should be postponed until 6-12 weeks, at least. If it is medically required for your infant to receive a breastmilk substitute or fluid, they will be administered via cup, tube or syringe if at all possible.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or birth center. While education regarding breastfeeding during pregnancy (What will you learn in a Breastfeeding class?) and right after birth is crucial, knowing where to find help when you need it, after you are discharged, may be even more important. I can’t count the number of new mothers I have counseled who had a ‘great latch’ in the hospital, then ran into problems 3 days post-partum. It’s normal, it happens – and you need to know where to get advice or counseling. Baby-Friendly Hospitals will discharge you with a wealth of information – including contacts in the community that can help you. If you need help now, here is my list of searchable and useful online breastfeeding resources.
So what does all this mean for you?
Simply put, Baby-Friendly Hospitals and Facilities are geared toward creating and establishing the best possible breastfeeding relationship possible. This does NOT mean that mothers who do not wish to nurse are unwelcome, merely that you may need to sign a form that you understand your choice and have received information in order to make an informed decision. It really is all about choice.
What about you?
Have you given birth at a Baby-Friendly Facility? Do you plan to? Join the conversation! I would love to hear from you!!