What makes a hospital “Baby-Friendly?”

African-American mother and newborn

If 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. The designation is conferred for a five-year period.

At OSF HealthCare, we have made it a priority to adopt the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative philosophy of evidence-based care and implement care models that reflect those aligned with the Baby-Friendly way. We are proud to have three hospitals designated as Baby-Friendly. They are OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington and OSF HealthCare Heart of Mary Medical Center in Urbana.

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 their 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.

The journey

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. In 2007, less than 3% of U.S. births occurred in approximately 60 Baby-Friendly designated facilities. In 2018, these numbers have risen to more than 25% of births in more than 500 Baby-Friendly designated facilities.

An emphasis on breastfeeding

young mother and newborn in hospitalOne 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%. 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.

Last Updated: April 22, 2022

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About Author: Paula Hart, RN, BS, IBCLC, CCE

Paula Hart, OSF Saint Anthony - Center for Life

Paula Hart is a former certified perinatal educator at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford, Illinois. She is a registered nurse who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Arts from the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Illinois.

Paula held a national certification as a breastfeeding counselor for eight years before becoming an internationally board certified lactation counselor in 2010. She has been a maternal/child nurse in both the hospital and public health settings for most of her career and previously served as a prenatal classes educator at OSF Saint Anthony.

She really enjoys baking and cooking, as well as reading almost anything she can find.

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Categories: Birth & Maternity