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Many more hospitals now 'baby-friendly'

Monday, 24 June 1996: There are almost twice as many hospitals in the world that encourage and facilitate breastfeeding as there were at the beginning of the year. According to UNICEF figures released today, 7,779 hospitals are "baby-friendly," up from 4,282 at the end of 1995.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), a joint project by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, encourages hospitals to promote exclusive breastfeeding by making "rooming in" of mothers and their new-borns possible, and by prohibiting the supply of free and low-cost breastmilk substitutes. To become baby-friendly a hospital has to convince an assessment team that its practices conform to the UNICEF-WHO Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

"The initiative has built incredible momentum," says UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "Hospitals and health workers are in an ideal position to promote change - both within their walls and through their influence." UNICEF estimates that more than a million infants die every year and millions more succumb to illness and malnutrition because they are not adequately breastfed.

Over 170 countries have joined BFHI since its launch in 1992, and hospitals designated as baby-friendly have doubled in number each year. In 1992, 290 hospitals in 12 countries were designated as baby friendly, increasing cumulatively to 790 in 1993, 2,483 in 1994 and 4,282 by the end of last year.

"This exponential growth is the result of a strong partnership with governments, NGOs and individual hospitals," explains Ms. Bellamy. "The baby-friendly movement has provided a tangible goal to countless organizations that have been advocating the importance of breastfeeding for many years."

"A baby-friendly hospital ensures that a woman's right to choose how to feed her baby is preserved, free from adverse influences," says Lida Lhotska, UNICEF infant feeding and care project officer. "Evidence is increasing that when women have full information and a supportive environment, the vast majority will choose to breastfeed".

World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August 1996) will further reinforce the initiative with the theme "Breastfeeding: A community responsibility." It aims to mobilize communities to help schools, religious institutions, businesses, families and social organizations to support a woman's right to breastfeed. Organized annually by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), the Week highlights breastfeeding's nutritional, psychological and health benefits for both children and mothers.

Please email with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOI/PR/1996-19.

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