The Benefits of Baby-Friendly Hospitals

The Benefits of Baby-Friendly Hospitals

What Parents Need to Know About Where They Choose to Give Birth

By Dr. Kortney West, Founder/Pediatrician at West Pediatrics

How many moms and dads have heard of hospitals being designated as “Baby Friendly”? As a pediatrician, I love the idea of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) and the support it gives new parents, especially mothers. In short, the BFHI assists hospitals in giving mothers the information, confidence and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or safely feed with formula, and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so.

The basic philosophy of BFHI is as follows:

  • Human milk fed through direct breastfeeding is the optimal way for human infants to be nurtured and nourished.
  • The precious first days in the birth facility should be protected as a time of bonding and support not influenced by commercial interests.
  • Every mother should be informed about the benefits of breastfeeding and respected to make her own decision.

More than 20,000 maternity facilities in 150 countries around the world have earned the Baby-Friendly designation. Woman’s Hospital recently received this designation, which required a tremendous amount of work to earn; it’s a testament to how much the hospital is investing in families. The designation process to becoming Baby-Friendly is incredibly time consuming, requires substantial training and a proper support staff. The hospital has to implement a number of guidelines and evaluation criteria and then go through proper inspections/evaluations by the accrediting body.

The guideline and evaluation criteria main points are as follows:

  • All hospitals must have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to the healthcare staff.
  • Train all staff in the 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 infants no food or drink other than breast milk, 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 birth center.
  • Compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes.

As you can tell, hospitals have certainly changed, even since a lot of us were born. It’s hard for our parents (now in the grandparent role) to fathom hospitals without a nursery or not using formula from the beginning. What’s also amazing is how knowledgeable the staff is as it relates to breastfeeding, especially with the availability of lactation consultants. While I know and truly believe Fed Is Best, I do hope that through the BFHI, some moms who did not think breastfeeding was an option get the support they need to make an attempt at it. Remember, even the smallest amounts of breast milk will benefit baby.

From a pediatrician’s standpoint, I love the concept of more babies being breastfed from the beginning. As Baby-Friendly USA says, “Scientific studies have shown us that breastfed children have far fewer and less serious illnesses than those who never receive breast milk, including a reduced risk of SIDS, childhood cancers, and diabetes. In addition to the fact that breast milk is free, breastfeeding provides savings on health care costs and related time lost to care for sick children.” I am thankful that Woman’s Hospital sees the value of becoming a Baby-Friendly hospital and is committed to making your health and your baby’s health a priority.