Why You Should Boycott the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative

When I was touring the hospital I was due to give birth in, the nurse proudly told me that they recently reached Baby-Friendly Status. At the time, I did not have much of a reaction, because I really didn’t know what it meant. And only after delivery did I get a chance – through research and reflection – to see how it impacted my hospital stay. 

If you don’t know what a baby-friendly hospital is, here’s what UNICEF has to say about it:

“The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative ( BFHI ), launched in 1991, is an effort by UNICEF and the World Health Organization to ensure that all maternities, whether free standing or in a hospital, become centers of breastfeeding support.”

UNICEF

Sounds great, right? As it should! The intention of the BFHI is really something to be commended. Doctors and nurses have drastically changed their normal processes and procedures since the beginning of the initiative to give mother and baby the optimal conditions to facilitate breastfeeding.

So, why does it sound like there is a “but” coming?

While this initiative has had a proven track record of increasing breastfeeding success rates, there are some drawbacks.

The Problem

Many American hospitals in the past decade have used Baby-Friendly Status as a means to cut hospital overhead. Often, patients no longer have access to a nursery. Consequently, mothers are forced to “room-in” often in situations where they should really be given time to recover, and the proper support to do so.

Here’s what commonly transpires in a baby-friendly hospital.H

  • Mothers are left alone with the baby.
  • Nurses come into the room to administer the baby’s testing.
  • Mother doesn’t sleep.
  • Fathers/Partners remain home caring for older children, while mother is alone caring for her newborn child.
  • Baby wakes up hungry. Painful latch. Mom calls for breastfeeding consultant.
  • Breastfeeding consultant is done for the day and won’t be back until tomorrow.
  • New mothers are not aware that formula is available at the hospital, because nurses and doctors will not recommend or discuss it.
  • Mother nurses through painful latch and puts baby to sleep.
  • Nurse comes in to take mother’s vitals.
  • Mother asks for pain medications.
  • Nurse comes back to give medication 15 minutes later.
  • Mother sleeps for 40 minutes.
  • Baby wakes up. She is hungry and colostrum isn’t filling his/her belly.
  • Baby cries. Nurses make empty offers to hold baby, but are really too busy.
  • Co-sleeping is discouraged.
  • Mother holds and bounces a crying baby for six hours.
  • Lactation nurse comes in. Recommends you pump every few hours.
  • The process repeats itself.
  • Many women check-out early because of inability to care for her baby while recovering.

My Personal Experience

An excerpt from my pregnancy journal:

Little E was starving. I was told at 7pm that I’d have to wait until the lactation nurse came in at 9am for help. An OB/GYN came in to check on my stitches and I cried hysterically about how I was awake all night long. I couldn’t take my baby off the breast. My nipples were bleeding and blistered from her poor latch. The doctor ran to get the lactation nurse. Because she was bogged-down by desperate mothers, I didn’t see her until 10:30. I was awake for 31 hours straight, could barely hold my head up, and there was no one to help. Nurses couldn’t take her out of the room. I asked repeatedly to be discharged early. After giving my daughter formula, I was told that I would probably never get my supply up enough to feed my baby without supplementing (mind you, my milk hadn’t come in yet). I ended up waiting for 2 hours with my coat on while they arranged our discharge papers.

3/27/18

I was extremely lucky. I had amazing nurses who genuinely cared about me (at least most of them did). However, for them, their hands were tied. Between hospital policy and lack of appropriate staffing, there was a lot they could not do. When I read stories like the ones mentioned on the Huffington Post, I cry a little on the inside.

Something Has to Change

At some point we have to consider the requirements by UNICEF to become a participant of BFHI. This program has been around for 28 years! Now knowing the impact this program has on the care a mother receives during her hospital stay, why is nothing done about it? A what point do we call out the understaffed hospitals and create a “mother-friendly” initiative? One where parents are able to make choices for themselves and their babies.

After all, isn’t the best thing for baby always going to be a healthy and well-prepared mother?

Food for thought.

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