Baby-friendly hospital is a designation awarded by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund to hospitals worldwide that foster evidence based strategies concerning infant feeding. These strategies have as an outcome an increased likelihood of informed decision making regarding infant feeding and greater skills for mothers to initiate and sustain breastfeeding. It is termed baby friendly because it is a global strategy inclusive of and beneficial to all mothers regardless of how they decide to feed their infants. The designation is awarded according to stringent criteria. The award recognizes facilities that offer mothers the information, confidence and skills needed to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies.
The initiative was launched in 1991 as part of an effort to promote nursing over formula feeding. In developing countries, formula feeding is associated with higher infant mortality and higher social and economic costs. Even in developed countries, breastfeeding offers nutritional, developmental, immunologic, and psychological advantages.
The criteria for designation as Baby-Friendly include:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
- Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed and maintain lactation, even if they should be separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.
- Practice rooming in - that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic
The program also restricts use by the hospital of free formula or other infant care aids provided by formula companies.
Between 1991 and 2005, approximately 15,000 facilities worldwide have been inspected and accredited as "Baby-Friendly." These include about 25 each in the US and UK.
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