St. Mary’s earns Baby Friendly designation

St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction has earned the Baby Friendly Hospital designation for its efforts to promote breastfeeding for newborns.

“It’s about what’s best for mothers and babies. Science shows that breastfeeding is the best way for infants to be nourished. It lowers the risks for certain diseases and improves health outcomes for mothers and babies,” said Therese Houk, Baby Friendly coordinator at St. Mary’s.

The World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund launched the Baby Friendly Hospital initiative to recognize hospitals and birthing centers that promote infant feeding and bonding between mothers and newborns. According to Baby Friendly USA, mothers who give birth at Baby Friendly hospitals are more likely to initiate and sustain breastfeeding.

St. Mary’s had to implement and demonstrate 10 steps to earn the designation, Houk said. “It was a four-year process that included educating staff, changing policy and changing some of our mindsets and processes that were in place. It definitely didn’t happen overnight.”

Hospital perinatal staff completed 20 hours of training to better educate prenatal and postpartum patients about the benefits of breastfeeding.

“We have to support breastfeeding from the moment of birth,” Houk said. “We did that by implementing skin-to-skin contact with all newborns immediately after birth so breastfeeding can be quickly initiated. We’ve found that it makes babies blood sugars and body temperatures more stable and in turn babies are less fussy.”

“It’s all about education,” Houk added. “If the mother has the information and still decides she wants to bottle feed, that’s fine. But then our goal becomes making sure she’s bottle-feeding safely.”