What’s A Baby Friendly Hospital?

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by Pamela Kock

In 1998, while I was planning for the arrival of my son, I learned that a local hospital was designated as “Baby Friendly.” What did that mean?
Aren’t all hospitals friendly to babies? This facility had a brand-new birth center, which seemed quite luxurious. Labor, delivery, and recovery took place in the same room, and the baby’s examination area was in an alcove of the mother’s room, so there was no need for the baby to leave my loving gaze. Alternatives to medication for pain relief were available and encouraged. Sounds pretty friendly, right? Well, “Baby Friendly” means much more.

Many hospitals have policies and procedures that seem to discourage the breastfeeding relationship. Hospital staff may separate mother and baby even when there is no medical reason. Formula or sugar water is sometimes given without permission, pacifiers are given in the nursery. Nurses are often no help with establishing breastfeeding, and lactation consultants can be hard to come by. “New mother kits” are passed out, containing formula samples and coupons.

Because the first two days of a baby’s life are critical in establishing a nursing relationship, it’s important to select a birth center that supports breastfeeding. UNICEF and the World Health Organization have launched the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. In order to receive the “Baby Friendly” designation, a facility must implement a list of standards, titled “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding”:

1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.

2. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.

3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.

4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within an hour of birth.

5. Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they should be separated from their infants.

6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.

7. Practice “rooming in” by allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.

8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.

9. Give no artificial teats, pacifiers, dummies, or soothers to breastfeeding infants.

10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or birthing center.

As of July 2000, twenty-six hospitals and birth centers in the United States have been awarded “Baby-Friendly” status.

Pamela Kock is a freelance writer from Ohio.

© Pamela Kock

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