Birth is not only about making babies.
It's about making mothers -
strong, competent, capable mothers
who trust themselves and believe in their inner strength.
-- Barbara Katz Rothman
If you’ve recently researched or toured a birthing center or hospital, you may have heard the term “baby-friendly.” This means that the facility and its staff have taken steps to ensure that the care for newborn babies during and after birth is evidence-based, promotes breastfeeding and allows for healthy bonding between the mother and her baby.
But what does it look like for maternity care to be both baby-friendly and mother-friendly?
Mother-friendly care seeks to educate, support and empower mothers during labor and birth while providing respectful, evidence-based care in a supportive environment that prepares her to breastfeed and care for her child with confidence.
The Improving Birth Coalition, a group that advocates for respectful, evidence-based care, has outlined ten steps that a birthing location can take to provide mother-friendly care:
- Offer a mother continuous emotional and physical support from persons of her choice, including professional doulas, as well as offering the care of professional midwives.
- Provide the public with accurate descriptions and statistics of its practices for birth care, including measures of interventions as well as outcomes.
- Provide culturally competent care that is respectful of the beliefs and values of each individual woman.
- Provide a laboring mother with the freedom to move around as she wishes, unless a specific position is required due to a complication that has occurred.
- Clearly define and communicate their practices for after the birth, including what care would be necessary should complications arise for the baby, and provide community resources.
- Only use evidence-based practices and procedures and limit the use of interventions.
- Educate the staff in the use of non-medicinal pain management and only promote the use of medications to correct a complication.
- Encourage all mothers to touch, hold, and breastfeed their babies, including babies who are sick or premature, to whatever extent is possible.
- Discourage circumcision of a newborn.
- Strive to achieve the World Health Organization-UNICEF “Ten Steps of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative” to promote successful breastfeeding.
The key values being fulfilled through these guidelines are important to identify. First, that the practices of a birth center or hospital are truly evidence-based and that these practices and policies are clearly measured as well as communicated. Second, that the mother is given choices during labor and birth and that those choices are respected. Third, the staff and care providers are educated and supported in implementing such evidence-based policies. And finally, that the mother and her baby are given the appropriate support and resources for a healthy start to breastfeeding.
Keeping mother and baby healthy is important to everyone, but unfortunately, in many places these goals are rare when it comes to actual practice. Becoming mother-friendly as well as baby-friendly will not only improve the physical health of mothers and babies, but also has the power to improve the mental and emotional health of mothers. Keeping mothers mentally and emotionally healthy through the childbirth experience will have a profound effects on overall health of families.
Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer
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