A mother breastfeeds her newborn in the maternity unit alongside the father

About the Baby Friendly Initiative

Home > About the Baby Friendly Initiative

Learn more about the Baby Friendly Initiative’s work to transform healthcare for babies, their mothers, parents and families in the UK as part of a wider global partnership between the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative enables public services to better support families with feeding and developing close and loving relationships so that all babies get the best possible start in life.

The accreditation programme

Introduced to the UK in 1994, the Baby Friendly accreditation programme is recognised and recommended in numerous government and policy documents across all four UK nations, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance. The programme supports maternity, neonatal, health visiting and children’s centre services to transform their care and works with universities to ensure that newly qualified midwives and health visitors have the strong foundation of knowledge needed to support families.

Services which implement the Baby Friendly standards receive the prestigious Baby Friendly award, a nationally recognised mark of quality care. The programme supports services by:

  • Setting standards which provide a roadmap for sustainable improvements
  • Providing training and personalised support to help services implement the standards
  • Assessing progress by measuring the skills and knowledge of health professionals, and interviewing mothers to hear about their personal experiences of care.

The majority of maternity units (95%) and health visiting services (91%) across the UK are now working towards Baby Friendly accreditation. New neonatal and children’s centre standards have been introduced to help services improve care.

Learn more about our evidence-based, staged accreditation process and how it impacts on culture and practice to promote long-term changes in infant feeding care and download the Theory of Change document from this page.

Supporting infant feeding and relationship building

Baby Friendly’s work to support breastfeeding is based on extensive and resounding evidence that breastfeeding saves lives, improves health and cuts costs in every country worldwide, rich and poor alike. Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended by the WHO recommends for babies until six months’ old and thereafter with other foods for two years and beyond.

In the UK, many mothers stop breastfeeding before they want to. We respond to the particular barriers they face by supporting health professionals to provide sensitive and effective care so that mothers can make an informed choice about feeding, get breastfeeding off to a good start and overcome any challenges. Thanks to this work, breastfeeding initiation rates have risen by 20% since the Baby Friendly Initiative was established.

We also support parents who are formula feeding by providing information on choosing milks and making up feeds, helping them to feed safely and responsively. In addition, we advocate for better regulation of marketing of breastmilk substitutes so that health professionals and families can receive scientific, unbiased and factual information about infant feeding.

Baby Friendly works to support all families to develop close and loving relationships with their newborn and to understand the importance of this for their baby’s development. For example, in Baby Friendly hospitals mothers and babies now routinely stay together in the immediate post-birth period, helping to get their relationship off to a good start. In addition, our neonatal standards empower parents of sick or preterm babies to take an active part in their care on the neonatal unit. In these ways, the Baby Friendly Initiative is helping to create a “new normal” in health services, where babies, their mothers and families are put at the heart of care.


UNICEF is a multilateral child-rights organisation established by the UN with 70 years of field-tested expertise, a network that spans the globe, a passion for innovation and a commitment to make every penny count. Impartial and non-political, UNICEF is never neutral when it comes to protecting children’s rights and safeguarding their lives and futures. UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, reaching the furthest from help, the most disadvantaged and the most at risk. UNICEF saves children’s lives with vaccines, clean water and therapeutic food. UNICEF protects children from violence, exploitation and abuse. And UNICEF helps children fulfil their potential, by supporting quality education and training. UNICEF works for every child, to build a better world for everyone.

The United Kingdom Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK) is a registered charity that raises funds for UNICEF’s emergency and development work around the world and advocates for lasting change for children worldwide. This includes, for example, working to change UK Government policies and practices that are harmful to child rights in the UK and internationally. UNICEF UK is one of 33 UNICEF national charitable organisations based in industrialised countries. Find out more: unicef.org.uk

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