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 the Promotion, Protection and Support of Breastfeeding in Community Health Care Settings.
The Baby Friendly Initiative works with the health-care system to ensure a high standard of care for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers and babies. Support is provided for health-care facilities that are seeking to implement best practice, and an assessment and accreditation process recognises those that have achieved the required standard.
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The UK Baby Friendly Initiative is based on a global accreditation programme of UNICEF and the World Health Organization. It is designed to support breastfeeding and parent infant relationships by working with public services to improve standards of care. In 2012 we revised our standards; for more on the history of Baby Friendly in the UK, please see the dedicated section on our website.

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. 

Best practice

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. 

References 

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

We are constantly working to improve and update this site and we value your feedback. Please email us at bfi@unicef.org.uk