There is a lot of talk about the Baby Friendly initiative lately on the news, talk shows, Twitter and Facebook. While the term is becoming more common, many people aren’t quite sure of what it means in terms of hospitals and giving birth. Today a fellow LC and I talked breastfeeding with our fellow nurses and many of them were unfamiliar with the term as well.
The Baby-Friendly initiative was started by WHO (World Health Organization) and UNICEF and is becoming pretty popular in the US. Simply put it is an accreditation that is given to hospitals and birthing centers that meet certain requirements. Requirements such as skin-to-skin following birth (with well babies of course, and this is not forced on the mother, just normal hospital policy that it happens. Moms can refuse skin-to-skin), bathing and assessments of baby done in the room with parents so they can ask questions and learn basic infant care, breastfeeding education given to all staff (including doctors), no formula bags given out and a goal of having baby in room with mom 23 out of 24 hours. There are more things of course, but those are the highlights.
The AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and the CDC are behind hospitals attaining this certification and for a general change in practice as far as mom’s and babies. The hospital I work at is laying the foundations of obtaining certification as well.
So what is all the hullabaloo about, you may ask? Why are people fighting it? Change is hard and can be scary sometimes, we all know that. People are afraid they will be force-fed to breastfeed if they don’t want to. That is not what Baby Friendly is about. Baby Friendly hospitals do have better breast-feeding rates for sure and they are very encouraging with education and getting parents to be informed about what is best for their babies. Will you be forced to breastfeed, no. Will you have better information to make an informed decision, yes.
So why can the formula bags? Simple. Giving out free formula or “gift bags” has demonstrated itself in lower breastfeeding rates. I have heard so many arguments over why it is unjust to remove the bags, but I urge people to look at the bigger picture. No where else in hospitals*, NO WHERE, does marketing and business have direct power over the consumer than on the obstetrics unit. When a hospital allows a brand to give away promotional items that hospital is saying “We recommend this, it is good.” to the consumer. In reality the formula companies are giving the hospitals free formula, nipples and feeding supplies. The hospital and the local WIC normally choose the same brand of formula so the babies stay on the same stuff from hospital to home. WIC has contracts based on bidding systems. The lowest price is what they go for. So your free hospital bag of formula is the lowest bidder, not necessarily the best choice for your baby. That said, save for a few changes for allergies and digestive issues, most formula is all the same. What costs is the advertising, the product cost pennies an ounce. The formula companies are buying their way into homes through the hospital.
Some people still say “who cares, I like free stuff.” Well I like free stuff as well, but you have to go back to ethics. Does the Coronary Care Unit give out McDonald’s Coupons? No, they don’t want you eating fast food, and most of us don’t eat the salads when we go anyway! Does the stroke unit, give out literature about preventing strokes with cigarette ads on the top of the education papers? No. It would be contraindicated. Yet, formula companies have been allowed to market their sub-par product for decades. Formula-fed babies have higher rates of infections, bowel issues, obesity, allergies, auto-immune diseases and so on and so forth. I’m not saying that all formula-fed babies are sickly. I was formula fed and have been very healthy (though a few more IQ points may have been lovely to have;) I’m saying that statistically they have more medical problems.
If you have worked with me or know me on a personally level, you will know that I would never make anyone feel bad for giving their baby formula. It’s not about making people feel bad. It’s about getting the right information out there, and not letting big business and the formula lobby choose what your baby eats. The whole mommy-wars things is tiring and gets us no where. We are blaming each other, when if we worked together we would be so much healthier and stronger.
Baby Friendly hospitals are a great step in getting our birth experience. I wholeheartedly want our health care systems to be family oriented and less medical, unless medical is needed of course. When looking at our country and society as a whole, if we want healthier babies and higher breastfeeding rates, we need more than Baby Friendly though. We need our country to recognize how important young families are. How do we do this? Better maternity leave benefits, insurance companies paying for breastpumps, employers who have pump rooms for mom (bathrooms are not pump rooms) and don’t penalize or ridicule moms who pump milk for their babies. How do we pay for this you may ask? By breastfeeding. It save a lot of money. The AAP has estimated in the millions of dollars of financial savings if at least 75% of babies were breastfed for six months. MILLIONS of dollars. Less sick babies, less time off work, less visits to the doctor and emergency rooms.
My rant on Baby Friendly Hospitals is done for now. I almost hit 1000 words, oh my. I must go trim some stuff! Please ask me questions if you have them. Please don’t accuse me of being mean to formula feeding moms, because I am not ;)
*Edited post publishing from Health Care to Hosptials and power to direct power over the consumer. Thanks Robyn for pointing out my blunder.