A baby is born and placed on his mother’s chest. His newborn reflexes kick in and he starts to crawl to her breast, calm and alert. This skin-to-skin contact triggers a surge in oxytocin – the so-called “mothering hormone” – and she responds by instinctively helping him to the breast. He latches on, and her milk flows.
When breastfeeding begins in this uninterrupted way, soon after birth, research shows that babies are more likely to breastfeed well, and mothers tend to continue to breastfeeding for longer.
Now compare this to the typical birth scenario, repeated in so many maternity hospitals:
A baby is born, and her cord is cut. The midwife announces “It’s a girl!” and then wipes the baby clean and wraps her up. Then she passes her to her mother. Then the baby is passed to her father. After a few minutes, the midwife unwraps the screaming baby and puts her on the scales and gives her a vitamin K injection. The baby is dressed and returned to her mother.
It was the recognition of this importance of this first hour that led to the development of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding – a set of guidelines that became the cornerstone of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, which began in 1992.
The ten steps encompass the practices that are needed to support a “breastfeeding culture” in hospitals. They are:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
- Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
- Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within half an hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed, and how to maintain lactation even if they should be separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
- Practise rooming-in – that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together – 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.
In order to call itself “Baby Friendly” a hospital or institution must also adhere to the WHO International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (more on this in the next blog on Indicator 3).
There is clear evidence for better outcomes for babies born in Baby Friendly hospitals – for example, a study in Scotland found that these babies are 28 percent more likely to be exclusively breastfed at 7 days old.
The meaning of Baby Friendly has also evolved over time, and in recent years it has moved beyond the ten steps. In the UK, as well as protecting breastfeeding, the Baby Friendly approach now helps mothers to begin a nurturing relationship with their baby – and this protection applies to all babies, whether or not they are breastfed.
The Baby Friendly Initiative has also moved beyond maternity hospitals. In the UK, it is now possible for university courses, health visitors, children’s centres, and neonatal units to become Baby Friendly accredited.
The World Breastfeeding Trends initiative (WBTi) assessment scores each country out of 5 based on how many Baby Friendly hospitals it has. It needs have more than 89 percent of its hospitals and maternity units accredited to gain the top rating.
The assessment also looks at the quality of the Baby Friendly programme – how comprehensive the training is, whether it monitors hospitals adequately, whether mothers’ experiences are taken into account – for another possible score of 5.
How do you think your local services would score?