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You may think that every hospital supports nursing mamas and breastfed babies, but that’s far from true. In reality, many hospitals still hand out formula to new mamas, but fail to provide ample breastfeeding support. There are hospitals that only have a few, if any, lactation consultants available 24/7. There are even hospitals where the staff push pacifiers or bottles over breastfeeding. With this in mind, if you’re planning on having your baby at a hospital, and you also want to breastfeed, it’s smart to choose a hospital that truly supports breastfeeding. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is one tool that can help you find a breastfeeding-friendly hospital. Keep reading to learn more about this program.

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Map via Baby-Friendly USA

BFHI is a global program that aims to encourage and recognize hospitals that do support breastfeeding families. BFHI, sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), helps hospitals provide mothers (and families) with the information and skills needed to successfully initiate breastfeeding. The program also recognizes that some families will formula feed, so there’s a how-to safely feed formula component in the program as well.

Sadly, as of January 27, 2011, only 105 U.S. hospitals and birth centers have been designated as Baby-Friendly. That’s extremely shabby, especially when you consider that more than 19,000 global maternity facilities, in other countries around the world are designated as Baby-Friendly. 105 here in the U.S. vs. 19,000 elsewhere – the United States falls woefully behind when it comes to breastfeeding support.

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Photo © Flickr user bbaunach's

In order to become a designated Baby-Friendly Hospital in the United States, hospitals must have the following common sense policies and practices in place:

  1. A written breastfeeding policy.
  2. All health care staff must have the skills necessary to implement the breastfeeding policy.
  3. All pregnant women must be informed about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
  4. Staff must help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
  5. New mamas must be taught breastfeeding skills, even if separated from their baby.
  6. Newborns may not be given food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
  7. Rooming in, or allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day must be the norm.
  8. Breastfeeding on demand should be encouraged.
  9. Pacifiers or artificial nipples should not be given to breastfeeding infants.
  10. Breastfeeding support groups should be established and mamas should be referred to said groups.

BFHI won’t solve everything. For example, back in 2001 there were only three designated Baby-Friendly hospitals in Oregon. My son was born at one of them, but that doesn’t mean breastfeeding was a piece of cake. I still had one very non-supportive nurse, along with one bad news pediatrician pushing formula at my son. Luckily, the rest of the staff rocked and were very pro-breastfeeding.

My point though, is that a Baby-Friendly designation is just one piece of the puzzle. For one thing, as noted above, there are only 105 Baby-Friendly hospitals in the U.S. If there’s not one near you, ask your local hospital about the breastfeeding policies and supports they do have in place. To get breastfeeding off to a good start, you’ll also need some basic breastfeeding advice and a decent birth plan. A breastfeeding support group, such as your local La Leche League, and/or doula support can also be helpful.

The bottom line – while locating a baby-friendly hospital can be useful, it’s up to you, the parents, to be pro-active when it comes to breastfeeding and finding the support you need, if and when you need it.

+ Find a Baby-Friendly hospital or birth center in the United States

+ Breastfeeding support links

+ FREE Online Breastfeeding Chat & Learn – Every Thursday at Noon EST