Making a Hospital Baby-friendly

Tom Giffey

A MOTHER AND INFANT AT HSHS SACRED HEART HOSPITAL IN EAU CLAIRE.
A MOTHER AND INFANT AT HSHS SACRED HEART HOSPITAL IN EAU CLAIRE.

HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire already welcomes nearly 1,000 babies into the world each year. Now it is doing so as a facility that’s among the first in the state to be officially labeled a Baby-Friendly hospital.

That’s not to say that the hospital – or any other that doesn’t carry the designation – used to be baby-unfriendly. Rather, the title was granted in recognition of a long-term effort by Sacred Heart to optimize breastfeeding by new mothers by creating an environment that gives them the education and confidence they need to be successful.

Yvette Boyce, director of women and infant services at the hospital, says the Baby-Friendly effort is an outgrowth of the overall shift from treatment to prevention in the health care world. “When you talk about preventative medicine, what better place to start than when a baby’s born?” she asks. According to Baby-Friendly USA, the agency that provides the designation, there is ample scientific evidence that breastfeeding is better for the health and wellbeing of both baby and mother, providing the child with complete nutrition and reducing instances of a variety of diseases for both newborns and women.

In August, Sacred Heart became the ninth hospital in Wisconsin to receive the Baby-Friendly designation. “It’s very rigorous,” Boyce emphasizes. “It’s taken years to get to this point.” Nationwide, there are 292 Baby-Friendly hospitals, a figure that has grown rapidly in recent years. Both HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls and Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire are working to achieve the designation.

WHAT IT MEANS

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a global program to encourage and recognize birthing facilities that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding. The initiative assists hospitals in giving all mothers the information, confidence, and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or feeding formula safely, and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so.

Source: babyfriendlyusa.org

To earn the Baby-Friendly designation, Sacred Heart went through a multiyear process of adjusting its policies and procedures. Boyce said the major components including focusing on breastfeeding with new mothers (if the women chose to breastfeed); keeping the newborn in the mother’s hospital room, rather than in a nursery; helping mothers understand their babies’ feeding cues; and encouraging bonding between infants and their parents through skin-to-skin contact and other methods. The hospital’s maternity nurses and lactation consultants have special training to encourage and support breastfeeding, Boyce adds. And while the new efforts may require more staff time upfront with new families, they should lead to fewer problems down the road and thus fewer hospital readmissions for women and infants.

In recent years, Baby-Friendly-style efforts had already become more common at many hospitals. Boyce notes that’s in contrast to what was common in American hospitals years ago, when infants were often whisked away from their mothers after delivery and were sometimes given bottles in the nursery even if their mothers wanted to breastfeed.

“To me this new model gives moms more choices, gives them more control over how their babies are being taken care of,” Boyce says. She emphasizes that while breastfeeding education is offered, the hospital will still honor the choices of parents who wish to bottle-feed their infants or have them taken to the nursery so exhausted new mothers can get some shut-eye. The last thing the staff wants to do is foster the “mom guilt” that already complicates so many parenting choices.

“We want to do what is best for the family that is starting out,” Boyce says. “Baby-Friendly is about learning what is best for your family.”

To learn more about the Baby-Friendly designation, visit babyfriendlyusa.org.

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