What Makes a Hospital “Baby-Friendly?”

shutterstock_153205175 mom with baby resizedIf you have heard the phrase “baby-friendly hospital,” you might have wondered if that implies there are hospitals that are not friendly toward babies. “Baby-Friendly Hospital” actually means a hospital has achieved the gold standard in maternal-child care, a designation bestowed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). There are four stages on the Baby-Friendly journey: discovery, development, dissemination and designation.  OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center is proud to announce we are currently in the third step.

The focus of the Baby-Friendly initiative is to recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer the highest quality care and education so an infant can have her very best start, including education on breastfeeding and mother/baby bonding. Baby-Friendly hospitals emphasize education on feeding choices, helping mothers make the best choice for themselves and their babies and teaching mothers the skills necessary to help them feel successful in their choices.

A hospital that is seeking Baby-Friendly designation is described as being on a journey, one that changes day-to-day practices and the education offered to patients and families. The process takes time because of the number of changes it involves, including improving the skills of a hospital’s maternity staff, changes to policies, examining and updating current procedures to those that better support breastfeeding, and changes in how obstetricians educate their patients about feeding choices. All of these factors are based on research in best practice.

Many hospitals across the state of Illinois are on this journey. In some ways this makes the process easier because most of the pediatricians, family practice doctors and obstetricians that are affiliated with these hospitals will be learning these skills simultaneously to make these important changes.

An Emphasis on Breastfeeding

One of the key components of the Baby-Friendly initiative is providing education on the health benefits of breastfeeding. If more babies were fed breast milk, the infant death rate would drop by 13 percent. A breastfed baby has better overall health because of the one-of-a-kind benefits offered by mother’s milk. Breastfeeding promotes a healthy digestive system for the baby because it is easy to digest, and breastfed infants are less likely to be overweight. It can help baby stay healthier by preventing ear infections, stomach viruses, diarrhea, colds, asthma, childhood leukemia and both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It decreases the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and reduces the risk for food allergies and sensitivities.

Breastfeeding also helps mom stay healthier by decreasing the risk of ovarian, breast and uterine cancers and diabetes, anemia and osteoporosis. It also costs less to breastfeed when you factor in the price of formula with the costs of bottles and replacement nipples.

Being a Baby-Friendly hospital helps staff take pride in their work because they know they are giving the very best patient care. Additionally, it helps patients feel more confident and satisfied in the care they receive.