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Breastfeeding rates are still much lower than they should be. Globally, less than 40 percent of babies under six months old are exclusively nursing.

Almost everyone whether they're a parent, medical professional, or layperson knows that breastfeeding is the healthiest infant nutrition mode. But in practice, things work out a little differently. Lots of factors contribute to a particular mom-baby pair's chances of successful breastfeeding. For babies born in hospital, that hospital's policies and staff are definitely important.  

A new study shows that being accredited by a the baby-friendly hospital initiative is not as important as actually following the guidelines set out by the WHO and UNICEF-led initiative. More about those guidelines and about the initiative itself later on. The study's lead author, Wendy Brodribb from The University of Queensland, told Reuters Health: "The BFHI initiative has led the change in maternity care. Without it many of these practices would not have been implemented in either the accredited or non-accredited hospitals and many women would not have breastfed successfully."

"The paper shows that components of the BFHI steps are important for breastfeeding continuation and are more important than whether a hospital has BFHI accreditation or not." To reach their conclusions, Brodribb and her colleagues looked at 7,000 mothers who gave birth in Queensland between February and Mat 2010. The overall breastfeeding rate among these mothers was 96 percent at birth. Those who delivered at hospitals accredited by the baby-friendly initiative actually had a slightly lower breastfeeding rate, though researchers don't know why.

The baby-friendly hospital initiative's steps to promote breastfeeding

Many women will have a great degree of control over where they give birth, and whether or not they end up breastfeeding successfully. Are you currently trying to conceive or pregnant? Being familiar with the baby-friendly hospital initiative's ten steps to promote breastfeeding will help you in choosing your birth location as well as personally helping your baby with successful breastfeeding. The BFHI has been around since 1991 now, and many countries have hospitals that are accredited from Canada and the United Kingdom to developing countries such as North Korea and Serbia. What are those all-important steps? Let's take a look:

  1. The presence of a written hospital policy on breastfeeding, that is available to all staff and routinely communicated to them.
  2. Training all staff to be able to implement said written policy.
  3. Informing all pregnant women about the importance of breastfeeding.
  4. Helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within 30 minutes of the baby's birth.
  5. Showing mothers how to breastfeed and how to keep their milk supply up even in the even they are separated from their babies.
  6. No supplementation with infant formula, water, or any other form of nutrition in the absence of a clear medical indication.
  7. Practicing rooming in, meaning that moms and babies are together 24/7.
  8. Encouraging breastfeeding on demand that is when babies want to nurse and not on a schedule.
  9. No pacifiers/dummies.
  10. Fostering the developing of breastfeeding support groups and referring new moms to them.

What you can do to ensure successful breastfeeding

So are going to be a mom soon, and you really want to breastfeed your baby? There are steps you can personally take to swing the odds in your favor. Carefully choosing your birth location is one of them. You may not be able to change the practice in a given hospital or even get staff to bend the rules for you, but you can likely find a hospital either accredited by the baby friendly hospital initiative or one that follows the required steps despite not being accredited. If you give birth at home or at a birth center, you will likely automatically end up with all those important things.

I'm a mom of two who breastfed for a total of four years. I am a strong believer in the need for self-education, but I don't believe a mother needs to know what the benefits of breastfeeding are in a whole lot of detail in order to make nursing work. I certainly don't believe that a mom needs to be shown how to breastfeed all of that tends to happen rather naturally, without anyone's help. I personally love to be left in peace to quietly nurse my baby without interference or onlookers. In my mind, the key points are breastfeeding soon after birth, rooming in (no separation babies are not routinely taken to a nursery), and breastfeeding on demand. If you feel strongly about these three points, you'll probably find a way to realize them.

I live in a country where breastfeeding isn't promoted at all, and sometimes actively discouraged inside hospitals because babies are separated from their moms and given formula right before their three-times a day visits with mom. That's appalling, so I opted to give birth at home instead. Breastfeeding and the baby-friendly hospital initiative guidelines are certainly topics to think about during pregnancy. Do you have any views to share, or questions? Please feel free to join the discussion by leaving a comment!

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