Is your place of birth “Baby Friendly”?

Baby Friendly? What on earth does that mean? Wouldn’t any and all places to birth a baby be “baby friendly”?

To answer your question, there is a national authority on which birthing places are designated as baby friendly. This organization is the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) and works in conjunction with UNICEF (United Nations Childrens Fund) and WHO (World Health Organization). A grant from U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services was given in 1992 to begin a work project to implement certain practices and develop criteria for the betterment of children’s health. BFHI encourages and recognizes facilities that offer optimal levels of care for infant feeding. The focus on infant feeding is in accord with WHO and UNICEF’s recommendations that breastfeeding is best for mother and baby and that is a rare instance when a mother cannot breastfeed her child for medical or physical reasons.

Why such emphasis placed on breastfeeding? Not only is it the best nutrition for your baby, it carries other benefits such as:

  • Greater immunity from disease
  • Decreased risk of breast cancer for the mother
  • Decreased risk of osteoporosis for the mother
  • Decreased hospitalization and pediatric visits for baby
  • Decreased ear infections, diarrhea, and other preventable diseases in baby
  • Environmental benefits

All of these translate into huge savings for families, the environment, and healthcare.

There is criteria of ten steps for a facility to be considered “Baby Friendly”. Some of the steps include providing information about breastfeeding, help mother initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth, provide no substitute milk or pacifiers, encouraging rooming-in and breastfeeding on demand,  establish breastfeeding support groups, and making sure all the staff have been trained for the ten steps outlined by the BFHI.

Why is it so important that all staff be trained for the ten steps of BFHI? Well, if you have ever given birth at a facility that is not Baby Friendly, you probably know the answer.  Pressure is placed on new moms to supplement with formula, and sometimes formula, artificial nipples, and pacifiers are given to the new baby even when mom has firmly and unequivocally declined such measures. Routine staff changes could mean your baby is given a bottle of formula, or pacifier simply because a staff member didn’t pay attention to your decision to breastfeed.

Another important step required by BFHI is that new mothers be taught not only how to latch the baby on to breastfeed, but how to maintain lactation even if they are separated from their babies. This separation could be due to a medical condition on the part of the baby or mother, or for a planned return to work. New mothers must be educated on maintaining their milk supply and have information for resources to turn to if they need extra support or advice.

Additionally, BFHI facilities do not promote breast milk substitutes, commonly known as formula. They do not provide bottles, pamphlets, samples of formula or anything similar to new families.  If formula is required due to a medical reason, BFHI facilities purchase formula for use in newborns.

How do you know if your facility is “Baby Friendly”? You can search for listed facilities by going here:

As of December 2009, there were 86 facilities listed in the U.S. Click on the other links provided at BFHI for more information on why breastfeeding is so important, the ten steps outlined to become BFHI certified, and information regarding BFHI increasing the health for mother and newborn.

Is your facility not listed? Call them and ask them why they are not promoting breastfeeding according to the ten steps of BFHI.   Write them a letter or email outlining the benefits of becoming Baby Friendly. Print off the ten steps to becoming baby friendly and ask your midwife or ob/gyn if they follow these steps. Keep in mind that home birth midwives are not generally considered facilities and thus would not be listed on the BFHI website despite the fact home birth midwives promote breastfeeding according to BFHI principles.

As a doula and childbirth educator in Knoxville, TN, I feel very blessed to know there are two facilities listed nearby. One is the Lisa Ross Birth Center, in Knoxville, TN and the other is Women’s Wellness and Maternity Center in nearby Madisonville, TN.


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