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What is a 'baby-friendly' hospital, and why aren't there more of them?

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

Do you know if your local hospital is considered baby-friendly?

One would think that every hospital would be "baby-friendly." After all, that's where people go to deliver babies, so why wouldn't they be friendly toward their littlest occupants? Unfortunately, according to Baby-Friendly USA, the non-profit national authority for the World Health Organization/UNICEF's Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, only 12 percent of births take place in baby-friendly facilities.

Created in 1991, the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a worldwide program launched by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund in the hopes of recognizing and encouraging hospitals that truly show an optimal level of care when it comes to birth and postpartum time.

In order to be considered "baby-friendly," hospitals need to show that they strive for excellence in "providing evidence-based, maternity care with the goal of achieving optimal infant feeding outcomes and mother/baby bonding." The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative has high standards, requiring facilities to self-examine their policies and procedures as well as requiring training and skill-building of staff.

And why wouldn't these standards be incredibly high? We're talking about the health and wellness of mothers and infants — shouldn't every hospital strive for the best when it comes to these patients? Especially considering the fact that the U.S. was recently ranked the worst developed country when it comes to maternal health.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative places breastfeeding as their top priority, and according to them, they "assist hospitals in giving all mothers the information, confidence and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or feeding formula safely, and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so." Some hospitals allow product placement and free advertising to certain baby companies (whether formula companies or others), and one thing that sets the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative apart is that it doesn't endorse specific products or services, relying instead on providing proper training and skills to hospitals in order to best support mothers and babies.

What does it mean if your hospital isn't certified as baby-friendly? Well, it can mean a host of things. The hospital I birthed at is not listed as being a part of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, but from a patient's perspective, they certainly adhere to many of the requirements set forth by Baby-Friendly USA. I received excellent care, had help starting to breastfeed and felt like both my baby and me were respected. There are also hospitals that fall on the complete other side of the spectrum, and unfortunately it's not rare to hear stories from women about awful birth and postpartum experiences in the hospital.

Want to know if your local hospital is considered baby-friendly? Check out Baby-Friendly USA's list of facilities today.

More on birth

Why my hospital births were like a vacation
It's getting near impossible to give birth to a baby in this state
Giving birth in a hospital is riskier than you think

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