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What are the UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative and Baby Friendly Awards?

The Baby Friendly Initiative is a worldwide programme of the World Health Organization and UNICEF. It was established in 1992 to encourage maternity hospitals to implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and to practice in accordance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes.

The UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative was launched in the UK in 1994. Its principles were extended to cover the work of community health-care services in 1998 in the Seven Point Plan for Sustaining Breastfeeding in the Community. In 2005, it launched its set of University Best Practice Standards to accredit universities that run midwifery and health visiting courses.

In 2012, a revised set of standards was launched that extended the programme to Neonatal Units and Children’s Centres. These incorporate the previous standards as specified in the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and Seven Point Plan for Sustaining Breastfeeding in the Community but update and expand them to fully reflect the evidence base on delivering the best outcomes for mother and babies in the UK.

The Baby Friendly Initiative work with UK public services to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding and to strengthen mother-baby and family relationships. Support for these relationships is important for all babies, not only those who are breastfed.

Why are they needed?

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of babies becoming ill. It is also associated with a reduced risk of later childhood disease and protects the mother’s health. It has been suggested that the lower incidence of illness associated with higher breastfeeding rates could also lead to significant cost savings in the treatment of illnesses such as gastro-enteritis.

While UK breastfeeding rates are increasing, they are still among the lowest in Europe. At birth, only 81 per cent of British babies are breastfed. This figure falls to 69 per cent at one week. Just one in three babies are still receiving breastmilk at six months, despite recommendations that babies need nothing other than breastmilk for the first six months of life.

The Baby Friendly Awards

The Baby Friendly Initiative accredits maternity and community facilities that adopt internationally recognised standards of best practice in the care of mothers and babies. Universities that equip their midwifery and health visiting students with the knowledge and skills to support breastfeeding mothers, in line with the Baby Friendly best practice standards, can apply to be assessed and accredited as Baby Friendly.

Accreditation takes place in stages. For more information on the requirements for Baby Friendly accreditation, follow this link to the website

Facilities with full Baby Friendly accreditation have been externally assessed at each stage. Assessment is a rigorous procedure and ensures best practice standards are adopted. Accredited facilities must undergo repeat assessments every few years. They can be expected to provide a high standard of care for mothers and babies, in line with the Ten Steps (hospitals) or the Seven Point Plan (community facilities).