The Baby Friendly Initiative is a worldwide programme of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. It was established in 1992 to encourage maternity hospitals to implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and to practise in accordance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.
The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative was launched in the UK in 1994. Its principles were extended to cover the work of community health-care services in 1998 in the Seven Point Plan for Sustaining Breastfeeding in the Community. In 2005, it launched its set of University Best Practice Standards to accredit universities that run midwifery and health visiting courses.
In 2012, a revised set of standards was launched that extended the programme to Neonatal Units and Children's Centres. These incorporate the previous standards as specified in the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and Seven Point Plan for Sustaining Breastfeeding in the Community but update and expand them to fully reflect the evidence base on delivering the best outcomes for mother and babies in the UK. These standards are being introduced during 2013-14.
We work with UK public services to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding and to strengthen mother-baby and family relationships. Support for these relationships is important for all babies, not only those who are breastfed.
Why are we needed?
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of babies becoming ill. It is also associated with a reduced risk of later childhood disease and protects the mother’s health. It has been suggested that the lower incidence of illness associated with higher breastfeeding rates could also lead to significant cost savings in the treatment of illnesses such as gastro-enteritis.
While UK breastfeeding rates are increasing, they are still among the lowest in Europe. At birth, only 81 per cent of British babies are breastfed. This figure falls to 69 per cent at one week. Just one in three babies are still receiving breastmilk at six months, despite recommendations that babies need nothing other than breastmilk for the first six months of life.
The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative provides a framework for the implementation of best practice by NHS trusts, other health care facilities and higher education institutions, with the aim of ensuring that all parents make informed decisions about feeding their babies and are supported in their chosen feeding method. Facilities and institutions that meet the required standards can be assessed and accredited as Baby Friendly.
Implementing Baby Friendly standards is a proven way of increasing breastfeeding rates (references 1, 2, 3, 4). It also means health professionals can give mothers the support, information and encouragement they need.
1. Broadfoot M et al (2005) The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative and breast feeding rates in Scotland. Archives of Disease in Childhood Fetal and Neonatal Edition; 90: F114-F116
2. Tappin DM et al (2001) Breastfeeding rates are increasing in Scotland. Health Bulletin; 59 (2): 102-107
3. UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative (2000) Baby Friendly Hospitals show strong increase in breastfeeding rates. Baby Friendly News No 6, July 2000
4. Kramer MS et al (2001) Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial (PROBIT). A randomized trial in the Republic of Belarus. JAMA; 285: 413-420
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