The work of Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. (BFUSA) and its implementation of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) in the United States is predicated on the fact that human milk fed through the mother’s own breast is the normal way for human infants to be nourished. There is an abundance of scientific evidence that points to lower risks for certain diseases and improved health outcomes for both mothers and babies who breastfeed. Breastfeeding is the natural biological conclusion to pregnancy and an important mechanism for the continued normal development of the infant. With the correct information and the right supports in place, under normal circumstances, most women who choose to breastfeed are able to successfully achieve their goal. The BFHI is a global initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). It is implemented in the United States by BFUSA.
Mothers who give birth at Baby-Friendly hospitals and birthing centers are more likely to initiate exclusive breastfeeding and more likely to sustain breastfeeding at six months and one year of age, perhaps because of the institutional support for breastfeeding at these facilities. Adherence to the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding (i), is associated with increased rates of breastfeeding around the world. In the United States, new mothers exposed to at least six of the Ten Steps were 13 times more likely to continue breastfeeding at 6 weeks postpartum when compared to mothers who had not been exposed to any of the Ten Steps during their birthing hospitalization (ii). Additionally, adherence to the Ten Steps decreases racial, ethnic, and socio-cultural disparities in breastfeeding rates in U.S. hospitals (iii).
Because the process of attaining Baby-Friendly designation compels facilities to examine, challenge and modify longstanding policies and procedures, the process also strengthens the organization by enhancing leadership skills, increasing staff competence, and improving patient satisfaction. Although the hospital is not, and should not be, the only place a mother receives support for breastfeeding, hospitals provide a unique and critical link between the breastfeeding support provided prior to and after delivery.