Baby-Friendly USA (BFUSA) is pleased to announce another significant milestone in our efforts to implement Baby-Friendly practices in hospitals and birthing centers across the country: more than 1 million babies are now born each year in Baby-Friendly designated facilities in the US.
This achievement seemed unattainable just a few short years ago. In 2007, less than 3% of US births occurred in approximately 60 Baby-Friendly designated facilities. In 2018, these numbers have risen to more than 25% of births in more than 500 Baby-Friendly designated facilities. Baby-Friendly protocols are now standard practice in birthing centers across the country, even for many facilities that are not officially designated as Baby-Friendly institutions.
What Is Baby-Friendly?
These results owe their origin to the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), a global effort to provide better support for breastfeeding mothers in maternity wards. The initiative was introduced in 1991 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) at a time when worldwide breastfeeding rates had fallen to alarmingly low levels and commercial interests had seeped into maternity care practices. The BFHI was created to reverse that trend by changing some standard practices in the maternity ward, the setting which is most influential in a mother’s decision to initiate breastfeeding and helping her establish lactation and achieve ongoing breastfeeding success.
The BFHI encourages the broad-scale implementation of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. These guidelines seek to remove commercial influence (e.g., free formula or promotional packages) from the birth facility and optimize mother-baby bonding and support through procedures such as “skin-to-skin” (baby is placed on mother’s chest for first hour immediately after birth), “rooming-in” (mothers and children sharing a room 24 hours a day), and educating staff and new parents about breastfeeding benefits and best practices in service of informed choice.
US facilities that achieve these high standards of care are designated as “Baby-Friendly” by Baby-Friendly USA, the authority for the BFHI in this country.
Why Is this Milestone Important?
The BFHI has helped to transform hospital maternity wards from places in which formula feeding was the expected behavior and breastfeeding was often never presented or considered as an option for mothers, into environments in which evidenced-based care is provided, education and conversations are free from commercial interests, and breastfeeding is a viable choice for mothers.
This is important because increased breastfeeding rates improve the health of the population and reduce healthcare costs. Breastfeeding imbues well-documented health benefits for both the baby and the mother. Breastfed children are less likely to be overweight and have far fewer and less serious illnesses than those who never receive breast milk, including a reduced risk of SIDS, childhood cancers, and diabetes. Women who breastfeed have decreased risks of breast and ovarian cancer, anemia, and osteoporosis. One study quoted frequently by the WHO and others estimates that increasing breastfeeding globally to a near universal level could prevent 823,000 annual deaths in children younger than 5 years and 20,000 annual deaths from breast cancer. And recent analyses have documented that increasing rates of breastfeeding could add $300 billion to the global economy annually.
Trish MacEnroe, Executive Director of BFUSA, said:
“This is an important achievement for all the people that have dedicated their talents and energies to promote Baby-Friendly practices over the past few years – our staff, our board, our global sponsors, technical assistance providers, professional organizations, government agencies, and the thousands of committed individuals on the front lines of hospitals and birthing centers. I thank them with all my heart. But mostly, it’s a victory for the more than one million mothers and babies each year whose first precious days together will occur in an environment that upholds the highest standards of infant feeding care.”
Mona Liza Hamlin, MSN, RN, IBCLC, Chair of the United States Breastfeeding Committee, said:
“This milestone means that Baby-Friendly practices are now mainstream and have achieved wide enough coverage to have a significant impact on breastfeeding rates across the US. Together, we will continue to strive to reach our most vulnerable populations, through evidence-based practices that provide equal care for every family, regardless of race, ethnicity and socio-economic status.”
Lori Feldman-Winter, MD, MPH, incoming Chair of the Section on Breastfeeding for the American Academy of Pediatrics, said:
“Baby-Friendly USA and all of the partners who have provided technical assistance and onsite support have worked tirelessly to make the necessary transformative changes in maternity care practices that have led to this tremendous achievement of having 1 million newborns delivered each year in optimal care environments. We can all share in the celebration of this milestone, knowing that the delivery setting is vital to a good start in breastfeeding. Since breastfeeding improves health in so many ways, the impact of this effort on our population’s health is yet to be fully appreciated.”