Not that long ago, having your baby in a hospital was a one-size-fits-all affair in a delivery room with bright lights and blinking machines — not what you’d call a welcoming environment.
Fast forward to today, when many hospitals offer comfortable birthing suites that feel more like home. Families are welcome, and birthing plans are honored unless there is a medical emergency. And behind the scenes, hospitals have the advantage of lifesaving equipment and specialists that can step in quickly at any time.
Giving Babies a Healthier Start
The best hospitals also offer a unique experience designed to get both babies and moms off to the healthiest start. These hospitals are designated as Baby-Friendly Hospitals for their excellence in promoting the highest quality of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding — especially during the critical first hours of a baby’s life.
Going the Extra Mile
There are 10 steps hospitals must implement to become a designated Baby-Friendly Hospital. These steps promote breastfeeding and also make sure all new moms have the information, skills and confidence they need to succeed and bond with their little one.
Baby-Friendly Hospitals encourage mothers to start breastfeeding their babies within the first hour of birth and promote unrestricted breastfeeding, which means feeding on demand and not according to a schedule.
Breastfeeding has big advantages, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breastfed babies have lower risks for infections, vomiting and diarrhea. In addition, they are less likely to develop allergies later in life and are at lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Sometimes, moms who breastfeed have difficulty getting started. If this happens, you’ll receive help from a lactation specialist who can show you simple techniques to make the process go more smoothly.
For moms who choose to bottle-feed their babies, Baby-Friendly Hospitals are just as supportive. Caregivers make sure you understand how to prepare and feed formula safely — right from the start.
At Baby-Friendly Hospitals, all babies are placed skin-to-skin with their mom right after birth to promote bonding. They also practice rooming in, where your baby is with you day and night, which helps you learn your baby’s feeding cues.
California Hospitals at the Forefront
Here in California, where more than 90 percent of new moms start out breastfeeding their babies, some of this effort can seem unnecessary. But according to the AAP, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months and then introduced to nutritious food while continuing to be breastfed for a year or beyond. By the time their babies are 6 months old, nearly half of moms in California have stopped breastfeeding, and only 25 percent of U.S. moms exclusively breastfeed. Worldwide, only about 40 percent of babies are breastfed at all.
That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) established the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative in 1991. Today there are more than 20,000 Baby-Friendly maternity facilities worldwide.
El Camino Health's Los Gatos hospital was the first designated Baby-Friendly Hospital in Santa Clara County. This adds to California’s already high number — we have more Baby-Friendly Hospitals than any other state.
To find a Baby-Friendly facility near you, visit www.babyfriendlyusa.org.
Updated August 2020. This article first appeared in the November 2017 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.