Early in March, a group of Northwestern students in Professor Young’s “Ecology of infant feeding” class had the chance to visit Advocate Trinity Hospital on the southeast side of Chicago. From the outside, it looks like a regular clinic, but the hospital is really quite special–it’s Baby-Friendly.
Shouldn’t all hospitals where mothers deliver be “baby friendly”? Turns out, out of thousands of hospitals in the United States, approximately 418 hospitals and birthing centers carry a Baby-Friendly designation, according to Baby-Friendly USA.
Trinity Advocate Hospital is one of 17 Baby-Friendly hospitals and clinics in Illinois.
So what does it mean to be Baby-Friendly?
“’Baby-Friendly’ means that the hospital has adopted the practices set forth by Baby-Friendly USA,” said Mary Ann Neumann, A.P.N, M.S.N., R.N.C.-O.B., an advanced practice nurse at Advocate Trinity Hospital.
Baby Friendly USA is an organization that helps implement the WHO’s Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. Part of the initiative requires adopting ten steps for successful breastfeeding, including allowing the mother and baby to remain together in the hospital, educating women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding and helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within the first half-hour of birth. Through these steps, health workers aim to increase the number of women who breastfeed.
“It is a culture; it takes a lot of work,” said Michele Roe, R.N., B.S.N., M.B.A, N.E.-B.C, the nurse manager at Advocate Trinity Hospital. “Many of our patients come here adamant that they are not going to breastfeed because their families do not support it, in their culture they don’t breastfeed or [they] have never breastfed; so many times it’s a battle for us to change that perception from the family support system and their beliefs…it’s a way of life, so to speak, here at the hospital – you have to live it in order to maintain and sustain it.”
Advocate Trinity Hospital was Baby-Friendly designated in January 2016. The process for certification took four years, according to Roe, but already, the community is seeing increases in breastfeeding rates. Such an increase means that more mothers and babies are experiencing the benefits of breast milk, including lower infection rates for babies and reduced cancer risks for mothers, among other benefits. In the long-term, breastfeeding is thought to decrease the risk of diabetes and obesity, two conditions that affect many people in the community surrounding Advocate Trinity Hospital, as well as other areas with limited resources. It’s one of the key reasons why the hospital decided to become Baby-Friendly.
“Where the incidence of diseases are highest and the resources are the lowest is where you see the least amount of Baby-Friendly hospitals and we just wanted to set about changing that in our community,” Neumann said. “If it can be done here then it can be done anywhere –and really that’s where we started – we wanted our community to be healthier from the very first moment of birth.”
Professor Young’s class had the opportunity to hear a little bit about Advocate Trinity Hospital before seeing the structure behind its mission, touring the site’s labor and delivery rooms, C-section recovery rooms and the level 2 nursery. On the path to becoming Baby-Friendly, the hospital had to make some changes, training nurses and physicians on new procedures, creating resources for mothers and modifying the facilities. The level 2 nursery is one example. Most of the windows are covered with pictures and quotes. Inside, the space contains only a few beds, and even fewer babies.
“The most important thing is our goal of keeping moms and babies together from birth to discharge, so where you see on TV shows people going to the window and all the babies are lined up in their cribs at the nursery window – we try to do away with that,” Neumann said. “We don’t just send the baby to the nursery so mom can get a nap or things like that, we keep them together and we promote that bonding breastfeeding and family togetherness.”
Such a short trip, though it didn’t cover full array of resources Advocate Trinity Hospital gives women, before and after delivery both within and outside the hospital itself, provided a new perspective into the world of Baby-Friendly procedures and challenges for all the students. Many of them plan to go into the medical field, including Ann Oler, who wants to become a perinatologist, helping high-risk mothers and babies with the birth process.
“This was my first time being in like a labor and delivery ward and like a nursery which is super exciting because that is probably where I am going to end up spending most of my career,” Oler, a Weinberg sophomore, said. “I got emotional while we were there I almost started crying.”
Neumann and Roe said they appreciated being able to promote breastfeeding practices for another audience, expanding the number of people familiar with Baby-Friendly goals.
“I think for everyone to be exposed to what were doing, what we are trying to do with breastfeeding, it would not only normalize breastfeeding to the general population but [also] focus on health from the very beginning of life,” Neumann said. “Instead of trying to take care of it after the health problems start let’s start by preventing.”