How Baby-Friendly Hospitals Encourage Exclusive Breastfeeding
When new mom Laurie Cookson arrived at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden, NJ last fall to deliver her newborn, her approach to breastfeeding was “I wanted to try, but if it didn’t work, it didn’t work,” she recalls.
Our Lady of Lourdes has been designated a Baby-Friendly hospital, which means it is optimally prepared to help new moms and babies initiate breastfeeding. Despite an emergency C-section, Cookson and her son had nurses standing by to assist them with the first latch. The nursing staff continued to support Cookson’s breastfeeding efforts through her time in the hospital and her son’s brief stay in the NICU. After three-and-a-half months home from the hospital, Cookson reports that she still exclusively breastfeeds her son.
What is a Baby-Friendly hospital?
Baby-Friendly hospitals stem from a global initiative to increase exclusive breastfeeding rates, says Kathleen Sibre, maternity nurse manager at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. Organizations like UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched this initiative in hopes of creating healthier populations in the United States and around the world. To be designated as Baby-Friendly, hospitals must show that they have successfully implemented procedures that support breastfeeding for new mothers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for infants for at least the first six months of life. “So many studies have proven that breastfeeding is the best way to feed an infant,” says Patricia Cerveny, manager of women’s and children’s services at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. Long-term benefits of breastfeeding include decreased risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“We view it from a public health standpoint, not just a lifestyle choice,” says Mona Liza Hamlin, lactation services and parent education manager at Christiana Care Health System in New Castle, DE.
Maternity ward changes at Baby-Friendly hospitals
“We completely changed the way we provide care,” says Jessica Lazzeri, associate clinical director of Women’s Health at HUP. The Baby-Friendly designation includes several new practices.
- Skin to skin. Nurses place the newborn baby on top of its mother for an hour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. “This helps with the initial feed,” says Lazzeri.
- Rooming in. Mom and baby stay together in one room during their entire stay in the hospital. “We won’t take the baby away just for our convenience,” says Jennifer Peterman, a lactation nurse consultant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
- Doctors and nurses examine, measure and weigh the baby in the mother’s room.
- Feeding education. Every new mom receives education on the baby’s feeding cues no matter what feeding choice they make.
- No pacifiers and no free formula.
What if you don't want to breastfeed?
While some moms feel pressured or judged about their feeding decisions, hospitals insist that they are not anti-formula. “It’s for everybody,” says Lazzeri about the Baby-Friendly program. “We’re not trying to force breastfeeding on people,” says Peterman. “It’s always going to be the mom’s decision.” Hospital staff members aim to educate moms about the benefits of breastfeeding, and then support moms in their decisions.
Cookson agrees: “They never pushed it so hard that I became stressed about it.”
Many of these hospitals had low exclusive breastfeeding rates when they started the Baby-Friendly designation process. Now most of them have exclusive breastfeeding rates as high as 60% and breastfeeding initiation rates as high as 80%, which is beneficial even if the moms and babies discontinue breastfeeding once they go home.
“Any amount is beneficial for the infant,” says Cerveny.
Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.