The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was launched by the World Health Organization and UNICEF in 1991 to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer high-quality, evidence-based care for infant feeding and bonding between mother and baby. Some of the parents we see at NYU Langone Medical Center have misunderstandings about what being “baby friendly” really means for moms and babies. Let’s look at some of these misconceptions and get to the truth about Baby-Friendly practices:
1. “Baby-Friendly hospitals force moms to breastfeed.” Not at all! The aim of the Baby-Friendly Initiative is to provide women with the best information that they need to make their own choices about how to feed their babies. In fact, Baby-Friendly designated hospitals have committed to providing better information about formula feeding and safe formula preparation to women who choose to formula feed.
2. “Baby-Friendly hospitals have no nursery.” While Baby-Friendly hospitals encourage babies sleeping in the same room with mom, most do provide an area for babies who temporarily require observation. NYU Langone provides a newborn observation area for this purpose. Rooming in is encouraged because research shows that mothers sleep better when their babies are rooming in with them. Rooming in has the added benefit of helping new moms learn their babies feeding cues, while the babies are comforted by being close to their mothers—they cry less and are easier to calm.
3. “Baby-Friendly hospitals don’t have formula.” They do! The difference is that, in Baby-Friendly hospitals, care is taken to provide formula only to those babies whose mothers have chosen to formula feed, and to those for whom it is deemed medically necessary by the baby’s provider. This strategy helps to stop the “casual” use of formula, which may undermine breast feeding for nursing babies.
4. “Baby-Friendly hospitals don’t give babies pacifiers.” This is mostly true, since the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages pacifier use in breastfeeding babies until at least 4 weeks of age.
Breastfeeding and bottle-feeding moms both benefit from choosing a Baby-Friendly hospital, where each can be sure that that her plan for optimal feeding and bonding is fully supported. In an environment where staff receives consistent training in the best practices, all moms can be empowered.
Elizabeth Moore, BSN, RN, is the coordinator for Parent Education and Community Outreach in NYU Langone’s Parent Education Program. As a doula and childbirth educator, she has worked as a maternal-child health nurse and educator for over 20 years.