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GLOBAL EFFORT ENLISTS HOSPITALS IN BREASTFEEDING ADVOCACY

There are five "baby-friendly" hospitals in Maine (they are York Hospital in York, Bridgton Hospital in Bridgton, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, Miles Memorial Hospital in Damariscotta, and MaineGeneral Medical Center in Waterville).

Wait a second, you say. Aren't all hospitals baby-friendly? There aren't really hospitals that hate babies!

The designation refers specifically to those institutions that are recognized by the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to identify hospitals and birthing centers that "offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding." They are focused on encouraging breastfeeding exclusively for six months.

The BFHI evolved to counterbalance the influence of the baby-formula industry, which changed the way maternity wards cared for pregnant mothers and their newborns. For decades, formula companies handed out free formula samples and heavily marketed infant formula as an adequate (or sometimes, preferable) alternative to breast milk.

Maine's five baby-friendly hospitals (there are 143 nationwide) have achieved the 10 milestones outlined by the BFHI, including:

• Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.

• Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.

• Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.

In order to be certified, hospitals must establish a written breastfeeding policy and train all hospital staff accordingly. It's a time-consuming (and expensive) process. According to Maine Medical Center's parent education program coordinator Kara Kaikini, Maine Med has formed a committee to work toward a baby-friendly designation — but there's no timeline yet. "A lot of education has to happen," Kaikini says.

In the meantime, she points out, "formula reps are not allowed in the building unless they have an appointment and they are not allowed to do any 'education' with staff or distribute free food or other items. They have very little influence in the hospital. Formula is still used here, but patients see no advertising for it in any of our materials."

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