Does it matter what hospital your child is born in?  While you might think all hospitals provide excellent care when the time comes for you to give birth, you might be surprised that not all hospitals are equal.

According the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only five percent of the children are born in what is termed “Baby Friendly” hospitals.  So, what is a baby friendly hospital?

The Baby Friendly designation is a United Nations’ UNICEF initiative begun in 1991 in cooperation with the World Health Organization (WHO) to try and help insure that all hospitals and maternity units offer the best services, support and benefits to expectant mothers.  A designation of baby friendly is made when a facility does not accept free or lo-cost breast milk substitutes, feeding bottles, and has adopted specific tests to support successful breastfeeding.

Baby(83426)Ten Must Haves For “Baby Friendly” Designation

The 10 “tests” for achieving “baby friendly” status include:

  • Having a written breastfeeding policy.
  • Training programs to insure that all health care staff are skilled in proper baby friendly methods
  • Informing all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
  • Helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth.
  • Showing mothers how to breastfeed and maintaining lactation.
  • Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
  • Allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
  • Encouraging breastfeeding when the mother and/or child desire it.
  • Giving no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
  • Fostering the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and referring mothers to them when they leave the hospital or clinic.

The Baby Friendly initiative has individual organizations in many countries.  In the United States, for example, a website at has a large volume of information about a wide variety of topics related to child bearing and care.  According to the organization “more than one million infants worldwide die every year because they are not breastfed or are given other foods too early.”

The organization also suggests that in the U.S. alone millions of dollars in savings to the nation’s health care system could be realized from fewer hospitalizations and visits to pediatric clinics.

To promote better baby-friendly practices, the CDC (see suggests several initiatives taken by all involved entities at the state and national levels:

Suggestions For State and Local Governments

  • Set statewide maternity care quality standards for hospitals to support breastfeeding.
  • Help hospitals use the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, starting with the largest hospitals in the state.

Suggestions For Hospitals

  • Partner with hospitals that are already designated as Baby-Friendly hospitals to learn how to improve maternity care.
  • Use the CDC's Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) survey data (at to prioritize changes to improve maternity care practices.
  • Stop distributing formula samples and give-aways to breastfeeding mothers

Suggestions for Doctors and Nurses

  • Help write hospital policies that help every mother be able to breastfeed.
  • Include lactation consultants and other breastfeeding experts on patient care teams.

Suggestions for Parents and Families

  • Talk to doctors and nurses about breastfeeding plans and ask how to get help with breastfeeding.
  • Ask about breastfeeding support when choosing a hospital.

The U.S. Surgeon General in 2011 issued a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.”  The entire report can be downloaded as a pdf document at

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