The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative

New mom breastfeeding at birth
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Hospitals have a lot of influence over mothers and their ability to breastfeed. The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a program from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) designed to help hospitals maximize their ability to help mothers breastfeed.

The 10 Steps to Becoming Designated a Baby Friendly Hospital

  1. Maintain a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all healthcare staff.
  1. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
  2. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
  3. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
  4. Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
  5. Give infants no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.
  6. Practice “rooming in”: Allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
  7. Encourage unrestricted breastfeeding.
  8. Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
  9. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic

The more steps that your hospital follows, even if they do not yet have this designation, the more likely you are to succeed in breastfeeding. Be sure to ask your hospital what they can do to help you breastfeed.

Creating a Breastfeeding Plan

Prior to having your baby, you should plan to take a breastfeeding class. This might be a part of your regular childbirth class or it may be a stand-alone class. There are even classes available online. You should also find a good book to help you get started with breastfeeding.

This, along with a good support system will help you, after you have reaped the benefits or a baby-friendly hospital.

You should also have a breastfeeding plan. This is like a birth plan, but it specifically addresses breastfeeding. This can be very beneficial to talk about what should happen if the baby needs supplementation. What is your stance on pacifiers? Things that have the ability to alter breastfeeding.

It is also important to note that many hospitals are on the path to becoming baby friendly. This is certainly something to ask about when taking a hospital tour. If that's the answer that you get, ask them how far along they are in the process and what steps they do not yet meet. This will help you decide how you can best supplement that missing step.

For a list of baby-friendly hospitals worldwide, check the Baby Friendly USA website.


The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding: The Special Role of Maternity Services. Geneva: WHO, 1989.