Is Your Hospital Baby Friendly?
Home birth, birth center, or hospital? Epidural or medication free? Just you and your partner or bring along some family and friends? Nursing or bottle feeding?
During pregnancy, it seems you have an endless amount of options to consider for how you would like to see those important moments (or days!) in labor and immediately following the birth to unfold. If you’ve waded through the decision process and found yourself opting for a hospital birth, know that many hospitals are moving toward establishing a baby-friendly status, which adds another layer of variables to be aware of. Read on to find out all about baby friendly hospitals and if they are the right place for you.
What is a Baby-Friendly Hospital?
While we all hope the hospital where we give birth is baby-friendly, this particular label certifies achievement of a specific set of criteria in line with recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This designation means that facilities are recognized by Baby-Friendly USA as offering a support system considered to be optimal for infant feeding and mother-baby bonding.
The baby-friendly initiative aims to provide education and help a mother build confidence and skills to successfully breastfeed. For a mother, this status means that a hospital will follow 10 steps to ensure they are doing all they can to support breastfeeding practices, including:
- Training of all staff in breastfeeding support
- Informing pregnant women about the benefits of breastfeeding
- Attempting to establish breastfeeding within an hour of the birth
- Encouraging rooming-in (baby remains with mother and not in a facility nursery)
- Encouraging nursing on demand (as opposed to the mother guiding scheduling of feedings)
- Avoiding use of pacifiers
- Adhering to appropriate marketing of breast milk alternatives.
The appropriate marketing of breast milk alternatives means that breast milk alternatives are not pushed in a way that interferes with breastfeeding, or in other words, formula may not be given unless medically necessary.
All of these processes may sounds routine and even welcome for the mother who hopes to nurse. However, understanding the operations of a baby-friendly facility may help a new mother come prepared with the information and expectations she needs to feel comfortable after the birth.
Why might a baby-friendly facility not be for me?
Some mothers choose not to breastfeed and might feel unnecessary pressure if they have made up their minds to exclusively use formula. Other mothers simply may not be comfortable with the attention focused on them to learn breast feeding techniques. Still others may want to rest after an extended labor, or have other children to attend to, and would welcome the opportunity for their newborn to be cared for in the nursery. Handing out formula to new mothers is in direct conflict with the goals of the initiative.
Some questions to consider asking your facility:
- How many staff members are readily available to support early breastfeeding?
- Are there lactation consultants on hand?
- Does the facility offer group sessions for nursing support?
- Is rooming-in encouraged?
- What options do you have for care of your newborn if you need rest?
Where can I find out if my facility has achieved baby-friendly status?
There are countless facilities that will support breast feeding without having earned the baby friendly designation. If you are interested in knowing which facilities in your area have achieved this status, Baby-Friendly USA maintains a list. However, doing your own research is the best preparation in the event that the list contains errors or omissions.
With all the variables that can determine the course of your birth, arming yourself with knowledge of your facility’s standard operations will help to avoid any additional surprises.
Looking for Un-Maternity Wear?
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Alexa is a health researcher by day and a writer and life/health coach by night. She is mom to a feisty toddler and wife to a scientist who tries to keep her grounded. Few things make her happier than a green smoothie and morning workout. Alexa has lived on three continents, and after nearly a decade in Washington DC, she is continually surprised to find herself living in the suburbs of Virginia. You can read her musings on motherhood and simple living on her blog
or contact her to learn about coaching.