NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)--The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which certifies facilities around the world as completing the 10 steps needed to provide robust support to breastfeeding mothers, continues to show gains in the United States.
"We designated 14 hospitals last year, and in previous years the most hospitals we designated in a year were eight," said Liz Westwater, project manager for Baby-Friendly USA, a nonprofit organization that gives the "Baby-Friendly" seal of approval to birth centers and hospitals nationwide. "This year, we're on pace to do the same, if not more."
The United States has 3,000 maternity hospitals and of those, 83 are designated "Baby-Friendly"--one of the lowest ratios among developed nations. Because of the changes needed to follow the 10 steps, baby-friendly hospitals tend to be more mother-friendly as well.
Westwater spoke with Women's eNews in a recent telephone interview from her organization's East Sandwich, Mass., headquarters.
Women's eNews is covering the progress of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative to coincide with World Breastfeeding Week, which runs August 1-7 and is sponsored by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, a network of individuals and organizations based in Penang, Malaysia.
The theme for this year's week-long campaign is "Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response--Are You Ready?"
Among the dozens of events planned nationwide, New York City's Harlem Hospital, which was certified as "Baby-Friendly" last year, will hold an educational fair about breastfeeding. Local chapters of La Leche League, the breastfeeding advocacy organization based in Schaumburg, Ill., is also holding events throughout the country, such as the miniature golf outing that took place in Fenton, Mich., on August 1.
10 New Facilities So Far in 2009
So far this year, Baby-Friendly USA has added 10 new facilities--six in California alone--bringing the total to 83 (or less than 3 percent) out of the 3,000 monitored by the group.
This is a small leap compared to China, which had 7,329 "Baby-Friendly" facilities (or 54 percent) out of 13,400 hospitals as of April 2003.
10 Newcomers so Far in 2009
U.S. "Baby-Friendly" facilities are concentrated in the country's Northeast, which claim nearly one-fourth of the current total.
California is also home to a high number of them: 26 facilities. The Women's Health and Birth Center in Santa Rosa was the first facility in the state to receive the designation in 1997.
Breastfeeding leads to lower rates in mothers of diseases such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, anemia and osteoporosis. It also reduces her chances of developing Type 2 diabetes and postpartum depression, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"We think breastfeeding is essential for optimal health of children and we need to facilitate that early by allowing the mother and baby to interact in a healthy and normal way," said administrator Laura Faye Gephart in a recent telephone interview. She added that "Baby-Friendly" facilities contribute to the overall health of a population as well as higher patient satisfaction.
Breast milk contains digestive proteins, minerals, hormones, carbohydrates and antibodies that boost the baby's immune system; it's a natural substance whose composition changes according to the infant's age and needs. Baby formula comes from cow's milk, which is modified for human consumption with sweeteners and vitamins that aren't easily digestible for infants.
"Cow's milk was meant for baby cows, not for baby humans," Westwater said. That's why as far as Gephart is concerned, "every baby should leave any place where it's born with a good latch and a good breastfeeding relationship."
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative was launched by the United Nations Children's Fund and the World Health Organization in 1991 to implement practices that promote and protect breastfeeding, as well as ensure that all maternity wards become centers of lactation support.
More than 20,000 facilities in 156 countries have joined the program since its founding, according to the World Health Organization, which the U.N. agency links to a 25 percent decline in child mortality rates worldwide since 1990. Health officials also link the rise in breastfeeding to a drop in illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia.
Latrice Davis is a freelance journalist based in New York.
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