Infant Care Made Easy: What You Need to Know About the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative
Infancy is a sensitive period in ensuring that your baby grows to be healthy and shielded from diseases.
Come to think of it, infant care involves caring for your baby in a holistic way: everything from changing their nappies or diapers to providing them the best source of nutrition: their mother’s milk.
From ancient times and until now in the advent of science and technology, breastfeeding has been esteemed as an essential and sacred act of motherhood and infant care. In this article, I’ll share how major organizations uphold this belief and turned it into a medical protocol for hospitals around the world to follow—all in the pursuit of advocating breastfeeding as a pinnacle of infant care.
What is infant care?
What is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative?
What can I expect from a baby-friendly hospital?
Why should I choose a baby-friendly hospital?
Are baby-friendly hospitals better?
What if my hospital isn’t part of the baby-friendly hospital roster?
What is Infant Care?
Infant care refers to the activities as well as precautions that caregivers must pay attention to. For parents, this involves making sure their babies are well-fed, that they have clean clothes, and that they’re immunized on schedule. For health facilities, this includes, among other things, having the equipment needed for caring for infants and setting up the recommended newborn screening procedures.
Promoting breastfeeding is also a critical part of infant care, and exactly this is why the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) came to be.
What is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative?
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was launched in 1991 by UNICEF and the World Health Organization to champion breastfeeding in health facilities worldwide. It was this initiative that developed the “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” for hospitals to implement in order to provide the best care to mommas and their babies.
The main purpose of the baby-friendly hospital initiative
The WHO and UNICEF recognize the vital role of breastfeeding in infant care and spearheaded this initiative to improve breastfeeding rates. Since the days after delivery are crucial in initiating breastfeeding, BFHI aims to take advantage of that window to curate the hospital environment as a conducive support system for moms to nurse their infants.
How the initiative is implemented
The “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” serves as a practical guide for hospitals to support and promote breastfeeding. As a momma, it would help for you to learn what BFHI procedures you’re entitled to if you choose to deliver at a baby-friendly hospital.
The steps read as follows:
Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding
Critical Management Procedures
1a. Comply fully with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and relevant World Health Assembly resolutions.
1b. Have a written infant feeding policy that is routinely communicated to staff and parents.
1c. Establish ongoing monitoring and data-management systems.
2. Ensure that staff have sufficient knowledge, competence, and skills to support breastfeeding.
Key Clinical Practices
3. Discuss the importance and management of breastfeeding with pregnant women and their families.
4. Facilitate immediate and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact and support mothers to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth.
5. Support mothers to initiate and maintain breastfeeding and manage common difficulties.
6. Do not provide breastfed newborns any food or fluids other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
7. Enable mothers and their infants to remain together and to practice rooming-in 24 hours a day.
8. Support mothers to recognize and respond to their infants’ cues for feeding.
9. Counsel mothers on the use and risks of feeding bottles, teats, and pacifiers.
10. Coordinate discharge so that parents and their infants have timely access to ongoing support and care.
The power of touch: Why skin-to-skin contact is important
Skin-to-skin is one of the things that BFHI promotes (see Steps 3 and 4). It’s incredible how something as simple as skin contact can give way to so many benefits for mommas and babies!
A recent study by the World Health Organization claims that prolonged (90 minutes to be exact) and uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact increases the chance for babies to be initiated into breastfeeding. When a baby is laid bare on your chest, it helps them smell and find the nipple, which physically prepares them to nurse.
Thermal synchrony is also a factor here; a momma’s chest temperature can increase or decrease to warm up or cool down a baby. And for a baby who needs to find a boob (which can warm up to an additional 4-degree Celsius!), the momma’s warm areola can help them do it naturally.
Not only does skin-to-skin contact boost your chances to breastfeed successfully, but it also acts as a supreme bonding moment to release the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin that helps in:
- Uterus contraction (shrinking back into a smaller size)
- Reducing pain and bleeding
- Increasing your body temperature that provides comfort to the baby and lowers the risk for neonatal hypoglycemia
Studies also show that early skin-to-skin contact prolonged the breastfeeding duration and even leads to healthy breastfeeding behaviors of healthy and full-term babies. It goes to show that physical touch goes a long way with your little one.
What Can I Expect From a Baby-Friendly Hospital?
Know the facts: Breastfeeding education
- Baby-friendly hospitals offer antenatal breastfeeding classes that cover everything you need to know about breastfeeding—the benefits of breastfeeding, how breastfeeding works, how to set up a proper latch, and how to avoid common nursing problems, among others.
- They may demonstrate how mothers can continue to produce milk and breastfeed even when away from the baby.
- They may give light to issues concerning the impossibility of breastfeeding to some mothers and discuss the alternatives to breastfeeding or breast milk.
RELATED: Why Your Baby Won’t Latch (Expert Advice on Lip & Tongue Ties, Cleft Lip, and High Arched Palate)
Set up space for care: Conducive environment
- They ensure uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby immediately after delivery.
- They ensure that newborns will be in close proximity to their mothers within the same room for 24 hours.
- They promote and protect the breast-milk exclusive diet for newborns unless other drinks and food are medically necessary.
- They provide resources and referrals to breastfeeding support groups after the momma is discharged from the hospital.
Why Should I Choose a Baby-Friendly Hospital?
Studies report the positive impact of BFHI practices in hospitals in facilitating successful breastfeeding initiation and exclusivity and increasing the breastfeeding duration. Baby-friendly methods in the initiative, such as immediate skin-to-skin contact and nursing on demand, make way for these breastfeeding triumphs.
Benefits for babies
- Skin-to-skin contact until after the baby’s first feeding increases maternal oxytocin release, which then soothes the baby and stabilizes their breathing, heart rate, and temperature. It also helps decrease the baby’s caloric expenditure and improve oxygen saturation levels.
- Successful breastfeeding initiation within the first hour (a.k.a. the “golden hour”) after birth enhances the baby’s immune system. Thanks to the mother’s gut bacteria passed through the breast milk.
- The momma’s colostrum (the first batch of breast milk during pregnancy) also helps in boosting the baby’s immunity and decreases the risk of neonatal jaundice.
- The 24-hour rooming-in period gives mommas the chance to breastfeed in response to their baby’s hunger cues, which helps babies recognize their own signals of hunger and fullness. This helps in reducing cries too, since mommas can readily feed the baby on demand.
- Breastfeeding on demand provides babies with the optimal nutrition for healthy growth and weight gain while minimizing exposure to intolerances or allergies from food or substances.
Benefits for mommas
- When a momma has access to breastfeeding education and support, she becomes more empowered in the knowledge of what her awesome body is capable of and how it can provide the best-est care to their little one while ensuring her postpartum recovery.
- Being close to their babies gives moms the chance to recognize their baby’s hunger cues and feeding patterns.
- Since BFHI doesn’t allow the use of teats and pacifiers, the baby will be more familiar with feeding and suckling from the momma’s breast.
- Frequent breastfeeding leads to more oxytocin release, which helps shrink down the uterus faster after the momma gives birth.
- Frequent feeding, especially in the early days and weeks after delivery, helps increase the momma’s prolactin receptor sites—the areas where lactocytes or the milk-producing cells live.
Are Baby-Friendly Hospitals Better?
Not necessarily, momma! Even though baby-friendly hospitals are known to increase the breastfeeding rates of birthing moms, choosing a hospital according to your specific needs and preferences is still your prerogative.
But if you want to ensure that your breastfeeding journey is supported, choosing a baby-friendly hospital might serve you best.
What if My Hospital Isn’t Part of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Roster?
It’s okay, momma. If you want to prepare early for your breastfeeding journey, you may ask your hospital or OB-GYN for the services of a lactation consultant. They can provide you with breastfeeding education and tips in preparation for nursing.
You may also discuss your breastfeeding goals with your doctor and let them know the BFHI practices you may want to incorporate in your hospital stay.
RELATED: Can a Lactation Consultant Help You Breastfeed?
Preparing for the Journey of Mommahood
Preparing for mommahood is an exciting and challenging endeavor. There can be so many things to keep in mind. But please take your time, momma! Taking on the noble task of breastfeeding can be demanding and overwhelming, but the efforts will be worth it since it gives the best benefits to you and your child.
The baby-friendly initiative gives a holistic clinical support system for initiating breastfeeding, but it isn’t the only way to facilitate it. Doing your own research and talking to a lactation consultant before delivery is a great starter for you to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for the nursing journey.
Keep your options open and don’t feel pressured to welcome every opinion. Stick to reliable information, trust your momma instincts, and do what feels right for your body and baby.
This mom-powering piece is curated by multiple contributors: Lian Delos Reyes, founder & CEO of Milksta, and research & content specialists Nicole Saldaña and Rose Jane dela Cruz.