Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI)

The Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is an international programme launched in 1991 by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to ensure all maternity services become centres of breastfeeding support worldwide.

Breastfeeding lays the foundation for good health in infancy, childhood and adult life. Today more than 20,000 hospitals have been Baby Friendly Accredited in 156 countries worldwide. The BFHI programme encourages hospitals and health care facilities - particularly maternity wards - to adopt practices that fully protect, promote and support exclusive breastfeeding from birth.

The BFHI aims to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates and ensure evidenced-based best practice standards of care are offered by maternity services. Baby friendly facilities work to see that all women, regardless of their feeding method, receive unbiased information, support and professional advice in their decision to feed their babies.

In New Zealand, all maternity services are required to achieve and maintain BFHI accreditation. The standards of care and services provided are audited by the New Zealand Breastfeeding Alliance (NZBA) every three years. Currently 99.85 percent of infants born in national maternity services are delivered in BFHI accredited facilities.

The BFHI has had a positive impact on New Zealand's maternity services, with annual breastfeeding rates showing more than 80 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed on discharge from Baby Friendly hospitals.

All maternity hospitals are encouraged to become baby friendly by adopting the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, and providing good care to mothers and their babies before, during and after birth. A baby-friendly hospital also agrees not to accept free or low cost breastmilk substitutes (baby formula), feeding bottles or teats.