One of the most important is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization and UNICEF. We hear about baby-friendly hospitals a lot, but what does the term really mean?
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was established in 1990 to recognize those hospitals and birthing centers that offer maternity services that protect and promote breastfeeding.
Although the hospital is not, and should not be, the only place a mother receives support, health care workers at hospitals and birth centers have the opportunity to provide an important link between mom and baby for breastfeeding support before and after delivery.
Why the name Baby-Friendly? Because as we know, promoting breastfeeding means protecting babies' health and development. To be designated Baby-Friendly, facilities must meet certain requirements and integrate the following 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding into their practice for healthy newborns:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
- Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.
- Practice “rooming in” -- allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
These 10 steps were actually the theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2010, because each is so crucial to supporting a new mom's decision to breastfeed. And they were also mentioned in the U.S. Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.
In the document, Dr. Regina Benjamin points out that "researchers in California have found that disparities in in-hospital rates of exclusive breastfeeding are not found in hospitals that have implemented the policies and practices of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, while the opposite is true in hospitals that are in the same geographic region but are not designated as Baby-Friendly."
Researchers at Boston Medical Center reported that during the implementation of the BFHI, breastfeeding rates rose from 58 percent to 87 percent. This includes an increase among US-born, African-American mothers from 34 percent to 74 percent.
In short, these 10 steps have been proven to help hospitals achieve better breastfeeding outcomes, something the U.S. could benefit from. Our rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration fall short of the goals set by Healthy People 2010, and have a ways to go to reach the new goals established in Healthy People 2020.
As of January 27, 2011, there are only 105 Baby-Friendly hospitals and birth centers in the U.S. BFHI offers a list of all Baby-Friendly facilities, so check and see if your hospital is one of them. Many more hospitals are working to receive this important designation. Did you give birth at a baby-friendly hospital or are you planning to?