What Are Baby Friendly Hospitals?

newborn hospital
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You may have heard about baby friendly hospitals in the news and wondered what the heck they actually were. Aren't all hospitals friendly? Why wouldn't someone be friendly to a baby?

Baby-friendly hospitals came into being after the World Health Organization launched an initiative to help turn all hospitals that care for pregnant women and newborns into "baby friendly hospitals." To become a certified baby-friendly hospital, a hospital had to follow certain rules, all aimed to help babies healthier by promoting breastfeeding and mother-baby bonding.

The Rules of Baby Friendly Hospitals

Some of the rules include:

  • Clearly displayed policies on breastfeeding
  • Training for all staff on breastfeeding
  • All moms and babies will do skin-to-skin care immediately after birth -- this also means that all of the care your baby receives after birth will be done with your baby on your chest if possible, such as clamping the umbilical cord.
  • All babies are encouraged to breastfeed as soon as they are hungry after birth
  • The hospital will never push a certain brand of formula to mothers choosing to formula feed
  • Babies don't receive anything other than breast milk (sometimes hospitals in the past would give babies sugar water to help them with painful tests, for example) unless medically necessary.
  • Do not give pacifiers or other artificial nipples

As you can see from the rules, the whole aim of the baby-friendly hospital movement is to help babies have a healthier start to life by encouraging as much mother and baby time together, through skin-to-skin time and also breastfeeding as much as possible.

Does A Baby Friendly Hospital Really Help?

While all of these goals for baby friendly hospitals are, of course, good things, there has also been some critics of the whole "baby friendly" hospital movement. In short, some people say that baby friendly hospitals are actually not that friendly at all -- especially to exhausted new parents.

And the really bad news? Another study showed that the baby-friendly initiative might not actually help raise breastfeeding rates for moms and babies.

Although baby-friendly hospitals don't technically ban traditional hospital nurseries, where babies were whisked off as soon as they were born to be cared for by staff while the mothers recovered, they do encourage "rooming in," which is just having the mom and baby stay together at all times, 24/7 in the same room.

Personally, I can definitely see some of the problems with being so strict about a hospital operating as "baby friendly" that they forget about being "parent friendly" too. As a labor and delivery nurse on the night shift, I encouraged parents to let me know if they needed me to take the baby to the nursery for a few hours so they could rest. Although our nights wouldn't always let me take the baby since we didn't have a traditional baby nursery, if it was a quiet night on the unit and I could care for the baby at the nurse's station while doing some charting, I was more than happy to do so.

In my mind, I had two patients: the mom and the baby and letting a new, tired mom know her baby is well cared-for so she can rest and recover is just as important as rooming in.

Should You Choose A Baby Friendly Hospital?

The bottom line is, if you know what your goals are when it comes to your baby, it probably won't matter all that much. If you already know you want to breastfeed and practice skin-to-skin with your baby, you can do that at any hospital.

But you also don't need to be afraid of baby-friendly hospitals. They are great, especially for educating you on breastfeeding. If you are researching baby-friendly hospitals for your baby's birth, definitely keep in mind that ultimately, the staff will want to do what's best for both you and your baby. Skin-to-skin and immediate breastfeeding are great things with a lot of health benefits.

But taking a nap is also a great thing too, you know what I'm saying?

Did you deliver at a baby-friendly hospital?

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