Not Every Hospital Is 'Baby Friendly': How to Find One

baby at hospital

If you're planning to give birth in a hospital, maybe you've heard this phrase bandied about: "baby friendly." One would think any hospital with a maternity ward would be baby friendly; after all, they're set up to welcome little ones into the world. But that's not how it works!

Only hospitals that meet certain criteria can call themselves baby friendly -- which kind of makes you wonder what the "unfriendly" hospitals are doing, doesn't it?

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In 1991, the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund developed the "baby friendly hospitals" initiative in an effort to teach new moms how to best feed and bond with their baby. First and foremost, that means that moms get the support they need to successfully breastfeed if that's what they want to do. Because let's face it: breastfeeding can be challenging; without the right support, it's no wonder many moms flounder and eventually throw in the towel.

To accomplish this goal, baby friendly hospitals follow certain rules, including: having lactation consultants and nurses on staff who can show moms how to breastfeed, allowing moms to "room in" with their babies so they can breastfeed on demand, and not giving babies formula or pacifiers, since these can throw a wrench in a mom's and baby's ability to get breastfeeding well established.

More from The Stir: 8 Questions Pregnant Women Should Ask on Their Hospital Tour

Even if you don't want to breastfeed, you may still want to consider a hospital with this designation as it's considered the "gold standard" of baby care, and staff won't judge if you decide breastfeeding isn't for you.

"It's not all just a hard sell for moms to breastfeed," points out Marshall Maglothin, a health care management consultant who helps hospitals achieve baby friendly status. For instance, moms also learn about the importance of skin-to-skin contact -- even while feeding babies formula. Or if you can't or don't want to breastfeed, these hospitals will help you figure out the best alternative, whether that's how to get breast milk from a bank or find the best formula. From there, the hospital will provide continued support to help you figure out how much your baby should be eating to thrive.

It all sounds so good, you're probably wondering why every hospital in America isn't "baby friendly." It's because the program is so selective.

Earning this baby friendly badge is no easy feat for a hospital; the process can take years of training staff, from the doctors to the nurses to the receptionists at the front desk. From there, the hospital is audited to see if it makes the cut. Very few hospitals in the US have won this distinction.

"As of December 5, 2014, less than 10 percent of US hospitals, or only 222, have actually been certified," says Maglothin.

Yet while baby friendly hospitals are sadly still few and far between, there are ways to find one in your area. For starters, a current list of baby friendly hospitals is available at Baby Friendly USA. Keep in mind that all hospitals, unless they have actually attempted and failed the BFHI Survey, are "Baby Friendly Eligible" or "Baby Friendly Supportive/Seeking," so don't be fooled if you spot such language on their brochures.

"Only hospitals that have actually successfully completed the survey are classified 'baby friendly' without modifiers, or 'baby friendly certified,'" says Maglothin.

That's not to say that hospitals that haven't earned the baby friendly designation are bad. They may still adhere to similar rules, so go ahead and ask what their policy is on formula, rooming in, and whether there's a lactation consultant on staff. Or ask point blank: "Are you pursuing baby friendly certification?" They may say, "Oh, we're not interested in that" or "Yes, we're in the process of getting certified." That will help you determine whether this hospital simply wants to deliver your baby and call it a day, or will strive to support you in the challenging weeks and months after birth.

How was your hospital experience? Was there anything you didn't like?

 

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