What is Baby Friendly?

The Baby Friendly Initiative has revolutionised healthcare for babies, their mothers and families in the UK, as part of a wider global partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO) and Unicef.

For over 20 years we have been working with public services across the UK to help new parents give their babies the love, care and nourishment they need to get the best possible start in life.

We’re designed to reach all families regardless of who they are or where they come, through an evidence-based, structured programme that is proven to deliver real change for mothers and babies. We unify evidence, policy and practice by working collaboratively across a large network of organisations involving governments, public services, the voluntary sector and families.

Unicef and the World Health Organisation recommend exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. Over the last 20 years Baby Friendly has championed breastfeeding and supported women to feed their babies; but we haven’t stopped there. The programme has now expanded to support early attachment between all babies and their parents, whether breast or formula feeding.

What's happening in your area?

Baby Friendly award tables show the services near you and their progress towards becoming Baby Friendly

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Unicef UK Baby Friendly Accreditation: An overview

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Thanks to our work, simple practices that help new babies to feel loved and secure, such as keeping them close to their mothers and encouraging skin-to-skin contact, are now the routine in almost every hospital across the UK.

The Baby Friendly Initiative’s 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. Baby Friendly accreditation is a nationally recognised mark of quality care for babies and mothers.

Our staged accreditation programme trains health professionals in hospitals, health visiting services and children’s centres to support mothers to breastfeed and help all parents to build a close and loving relationship with their baby irrespective of feeding method. We also work with university midwifery and health visiting programmes to provide students with a strong foundation of knowledge on feeding and parent-infant relationships. The programme helps to ensure that professionals can provide sensitive and effective care and support for mothers, enabling them to make an informed choice about feeding, get breastfeeding off to a good start and overcome any challenges they may face. Thanks to this work, breastfeeding initiation rates have risen by 20% since the Baby Friendly Initiative was established.

Whilst supporting breastfeeding is at the heart of the programme, we aim to raise standards of care for all babies, regardless of how they are fed. For example, in Baby Friendly hospitals mothers and babies now routinely stay together in the immediate post-birth period, and all mothers are supported to respond to their babies’ needs for love, care and comfort in a way which promotes close parent-infant relationships and supports the mental health of both baby and mother.

In addition, our work around formula feeding protects both breastfed and formula fed babies from harmful commercial interests. We seek to ensure that health professionals and parents only receive scientific, unbiased and factual information about breastmilk substitutes, rather than misleading and often confusing profit-driven marketing. We advocate for better regulation around the marketing of breastmilk substitutes, and provide information for formula feeding parents on choosing milks and making up feeds.

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. Crucially, we support health professionals to provide compassionate, non-judgemental and mother-centred care.

The majority of maternity units (91%) and health visiting services (85%) across the UK are now working towards Baby Friendly accreditation, and new neonatal and children’s centre standards have been introduced to help services improve care.

What are you waiting for?

Commissioning Guidance for Infant Feeding

Guidance from Public Health England to help local commissioners protect, promote and support breastfeeding

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Public Health England's Commissioning Guidance for infant feeding services provides information for local support for breastfeeding