What should I Expect from a Baby Friendly Hospital?

If you are in one of the 143 designated Baby Friendly hospitals in the United States, you may have a different type of experience immediately after birth.

What is it? A hospital with the designation Baby Friendly is following the recommendations put forth by World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF.  The goals of the hospital staff are to encourage and support breastfeeding in the hospital.  A secondary goal is to educate women on feeding formula safely.

Why is it important? Breastmilk gives your infant important antibodies and nutrients that will help your baby reach optimal health.   It is estimated that millions of dollars are spent in the United States on preventable hospitalizations for infants and children.  The focus is on preventing disease through breastfeeding, which has been shown to decrease the number of infants and children that have complications from diarrhea, ear infections and other diseases.  As a global initiative, the promotion of breastfeeding helps reduce illness, increase bonding, save money for families and the community, and reduce waste in the environment.  Although breastfeeding is the optimal form of nutrition for infants, many women are not prepared to start breastfeeding in the hospital or continue breastfeeding through the recommended 24 months of life.

What should I expect?  The Baby Friendly Hospital initiative includes a ten-step approach to help women initiate and continue breastfeeding in the United States.

You should know that all healthcare staff are familiar with the breastfeeding policy and have been trained to help carry out the policy.  This includes adequately informing all pregnant women about the many benefits of breastfeeding and how to manage breastfeeding after leaving the hospital.  The hospitals staff help women initiate breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth, which means your baby will usually be given to you immediately after delivery.  The hospitals which are designated Baby Friendly will provide instruction on how to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding, even if your child is in the nursery.

Most importantly, the healthcare staff will instruct parents to only give infants breastmilk.  This means no other forms of food or drink, unless medically necessary.  Additionally, it is stressed that breastfeeding infants do not receive pacifiers or artificial nipples.  The hospital allows you to keep your baby in your room at all times, and will refer you to a breastfeeding support group upon discharge.

This antenatal experience may be similar in some respects to other hospitals, but breastfeeding initiation, and maintenance beyond the hospital are the main goals.  As a result, you will not receive a breastfeeding support bag that contains free samples of infant formula, but you will receive a more natural support environment to encourage you to breastfeed your infant.

More information available at: http://www.babyfriendlyusa.org, http://www.unicef.org/programme/breastfeeding/baby.htm

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