Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Named a Baby-Friendly Hospital

By Kalila Fleming, WRNMMC Command Communications Writer

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recently received recognition as a “Baby-Friendly” birth facility by Baby Friendly USA.

Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. is the U.S. authority for the implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. The program’s primary purpose is to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers providing an optimal level of care for breastfeeding mothers and their babies.

The “Baby-Friendly” designation is given after a rigorous on-site survey is completed, according to Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. Hospitals and centers who earn the baby-friendly distinction must have successfully implemented the Ten Steps at their facilities. The award is maintained by continuing to practice the steps as demonstrated by quality processes.

These steps include: having a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health-care staff; training all health-care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy; informing all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding; helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth; showing mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants; giving infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated; practicing rooming in (allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day); encouraging breastfeeding on demand; giving no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants; and fostering the establishment of breastfeeding support groups, and referring mothers to them upon discharge from the hospital or birth center.

According to the preamble to the U.S. Baby-Friendly Guidelines and Criteria, breastfeeding has been found to be the single most powerful and well-documented preventative modality available to health-care providers to reduce the risk of common causes of infant morbidity.

The preamble also includes studies that have shown in breast-fed infants, there are significantly lower rates of diarrhea, otitis media, lower respiratory tract infections, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, necrotizing enterocolitis, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Additionally, women who breastfeed have a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and breast and ovarian cancers.

The Obstetrics Clinic staff at WRNMMC has created pamphlets to encourage soon-to-be mothers to breastfeed. Lead Lactation Consultant, Leasa Freese, said, “Staff supports new mothers regardless of their baby-feeding methods.” She added, “Practicing rooming-in, allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24-hours a day is something we encourage.”

So, what does it take for a hospital to become a baby-friendly facility?

According to the BFHI, the process includes “a comprehensive, detailed and thorough journey towards providing evidence-based, maternity care with the goal of achieving the ideal feeding outcomes and mother/baby bonding.” Furthermore, it urges facilities to “examine, challenge, and modify longstanding policies and procedures, as well as requiring training and skill building among the staff.”

Why should parents look for a birthing hospital with a baby-friendly designation?

According to the preparatory booklet created by Freese and fellow nurse Tonia Benfield it included that, “Parents will receive exclusive care to help them prepare to initiate and determine duration of the breastfeeding process.” It also included that, “Mothers and families will also have the opportunities to develop a bond.”

Freese explained that staff members in the Obstetrics Clinic are “there to empower parents.” She added that, “once you lay a baby on a mother’s chest, the fear of breast-feeding subsides, because the baby knows how to breast-feed.”

Army Lt. Col. Dorene Owen, chief nurse in the Labor and Delivery unit, explained why expectant mothers should receive their maternity care as well as deliver their babies at the medical center. She explained WRNNMC provides an educated staff that can help at any stage.

According to Baby Friendly USA, there are more than 20,000 designated Baby-Friendly hospitals and birth centers worldwide, and currently 427 active Baby-Friendly hospitals and birth centers in the United States.

For more information about Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s designation as a baby-friendly hospital, contact the Obstetrics Clinic at (301) 295–6906.