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What's A 'Baby-Friendly' Hospital? The UNICEF Designation Encourages Breastfeeding

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If you're expecting, finding the right hospital for your delivery can be quite the challenge. Usually, mothers are required to go to whichever hospital their doctor has admitting privileges at, which means moms will want to find the right doctor at the right hospital. With that in mind, some mothers might be raising eyebrows at why some hospitals are designated "baby friendly" while others aren't. (I mean, does that make the other hospitals baby-rude?) Considering most hospitals have maternity wards, what counts as a baby-friendly hospital?

It all has to do with the kind of care you would like to receive after you've given birth. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a program run by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and it began in 1991 in response to high levels of formula use around the world. It's designed to encourage breastfeeding and bonding between mothers and infants immediately after birth. Hospitals gain "baby-friendly" status when they don't accept free or low-cost breast milk alternatives or bottles, and they have to follow 10 steps to encourage breastfeeding.

At baby-friendly hospitals, mothers are encouraged to "room in" with their babies — in other words, to spend 24 hours a day with their newborns — so there's no whisking babies away to nurseries after the delivery. Nurses also help new mothers start breastfeeding within half an hour of delivery, show mothers the ins and outs of breastfeeding on demand, and let mothers know about existing breastfeeding support groups.

LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on April 19, 2011 shows a mother breastfeeding her newborn child with her milk in Ygos-Saint-Saturnin, southwestern France. Breastfeeding more babies for longer could save the global economy some USD 300 billion in a single year, simply by yielding smarter and higher-earning offspring, researchers said on January 29, 2016. It would also prevent more than 800,000 child deaths, and about 20,000 breast cancer deaths every year. AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE / AFP / LOIC VENANCE (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)

Some women can (understandably) feel overwhelmed by the push to room in and breastfeed immediately after giving birth, and can feel pressured at baby-friendly hospitals. Others, however, are thankful for the support when it comes to breastfeeding, and want hospital employees' specialized knowledge. According to Slate, nurses at one New York baby-friendly hospital must receive at least 20 hours of training for breastfeeding, and the majority of their nurses are certified lactation counselors.

For some new mothers, that support might be key — while other moms would prefer to rest immediately after giving birth, without feeling guilty that they haven't breastfed right away. It all depends on what each individual mother is looking for. Mothers should check out the hospitals they're interested in and ask about their facilities, care options, and what a typical experience looks like at that specific hospital.

Every mother, baby, and delivery is unique, so take the time to pick what works best for you. If you have a great hospital lined up ahead of time and a doctor you love looking after you and your baby, the experience will feel friendly regardless of your hospital's designation.

If interested, mothers can find lists of baby-friendly hospitals in the United States online.