If you plan to birth your baby in a hospital, then choosing a Baby Friendly accredited hospital means that you have a better chance of establishing breastfeeding successfully and going on to exclusively breastfeed your baby for a longer period of time.
What is the Baby Friendly Health Initiative?
The Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI) is a joint UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) project that aims to give every baby the best start in life by creating health care environments where breastfeeding is the norm and practices known to promote the health and wellbeing of all women and babies are followed. ‘Baby Friendly’ accreditation is a quality assurance measure that demonstrates a commitment by the facility to offer the highest standard of maternity care.
To be accredited as ‘Baby Friendly’, hospitals must comply with the global standard, 'Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding', established by WHO and UNICEF:
Step 1: Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
Step 2: Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
Step 3: Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
Step 4: Place babies in skin-to-skin conact with their mothers immediately following birth for at least an hour and encourage mothers to recognise when their babies are ready to breastfeed, offering help if needed.
Step 5: Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation, even if they should be separated from their infants.
Step 6: Give newborn infants of breastfeeding mothers no food or drink other than breastmilk, unless medically indicated.
Step 7: Practice rooming-in - allow mothers and infants to remain together - 24 hours a day.
Step 8: Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
Step 9: Give no artificial teats or dummies to breastfeeding infants.
Step 10: Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support and refer mothers on discharge from the hospital.
Step 10 is where the Australian Breastfeeding Association comes in. Baby Friendly hospitals in Australia have good working relationship with local ABA groups and provide ABA literature to women upon discharge from the hospital. In this way, a woman can continue to be well-supported in her breastfeeding for the following months and years.
Who benefits from Baby Friendly?
The woman and her child
- Consistent care, information and advice. Staff in maternity and paediatric units have a written policy, which they understand and follow.
- Early bonding between mother and baby. Skin-to-skin physical contact immediately after birth in peace, without any unnecessary disturbance, allows psychological adaptation as well as colonisation of the infant's skin with the normal skin flora of the mother.
- Consistent and skilled help with breastfeeding. Staff are required to be able to support women who wish to breastfeed.
- Early initiation of breastfeeding. Babies are not unnecessarily removed from mothers at birth, thereby encouraging the instinctive seeking and suckling behaviours. When mother and baby need to be separated the mother is helped with expressing her milk and the expressed milk is given to the baby.
- Mother's milk is valued. No food or drink other than breastmilk is given.
- Breastfeeding is valued. Artificial teats and dummies are avoided.
- Empowerment. The woman has authority for her own resource: breastfeeding.
Those who care for mothers and babies
- Increased breastfeeding knowledge and skill.
- Increased professional competence, as practices are investigated and challenged and changes are made.
- Increased satisfaction and empowerment, as staff actively participate in reaching and maintaining the best standard of care knowing that the benefits of breastfeeding are life-long.
- Enhanced respect for the woman, the baby and their ability to breastfeed when given appropriate support.
- As the care is woman-centred rather than task-centred, all staff respect the woman's need for consistent advice and empowerment, thereby increasing cooperation and collaboration between staff members.
- A high standard, that is measured by the unit, and confirmed by the Baby Friendly assessment team representing professional and lay assessors.
- A Global standard recognised and respected by professionals and consumers around the world.
- A quality measure that can be used to market the hospital or unit services.
- Considerable monetary savings through reduced reliance on breastmilk substitutes and separate nursery care for well babies.
- The relationship between the mother and baby is protected, as the mother better understands and responds to her child, is more satisfied in her role as a mother.
- Health and development of the infant are enhanced.
- Health of the mother is also protected.
- Cost saving immediate (breastmilk is free) and long term (reduced incidence of illness): breastfeeding is the 'best investment' a family can make.
- Recognition of the importance of breastfeeding flows on from the family.
- An increased level of respect for human rights of both women and children, in ensuring access to a normal standard of health through BFHI's support of breastfeeding.
- Environmental considerations: breastfeeding has no waste products and no environmental degradation is involved in its production.
- Economic considerations: reduced cost to employers from parents required to care for ill children as there is less incidence of illness and disease in breastfed children. Reduced cost to scarce health-funding due to lower incidence of illness and disease in breastfed children and lower incidence of certain cancers in women who have breastfed.
In Australia, the Baby Friendly Health Initiative is administered by the Australian College of Midwives. The BFHI-accredited assessors and educators are also ABA breastfeeding counsellors, lactations consultants, midwives, nutritionists and doctors.
So for your next baby, if you are birthing in a hospital or birth centre, ask the staff whether the hospital is Baby Friendly accredited. If the hospital is not accredited, you might like to ask them when they hope to achieve this quality measure!
For more information about BFHI in Australia, including a list of accredited hospitals in each State and Territory call (02) 6230 7333.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association Reviewed October 2012